Augmented reality comes to retail

Mountain Hardwear’s new app gives consumers a speedy new way to try before they buy.
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Some of the nation’s biggest retailers are using augmented reality technology to help shoppers evaluate products—and Mountain Hardwear is bringing this high-tech tool to the outdoor industry. The company is developing an app that lets shoppers crawl inside a tent, fit a backpack beneath its vestibule, and even rotate that backpack to see it from all angles—just as they would with the actual product.

“We have a finite amount of time in our busy days,” says Jeff Brandon, associate director of brand deployment for Mountain Hardwear. Physically traveling to retail stores doesn’t always fit into consumers’ schedules. And brick-and-mortar retailers may not have the floor space to display bulky technical items such as tents.

Denis Vasilev of Transparent House demonstrates the forthcoming augmented reality app.

Denis Vasilev of Transparent House demonstrates the forthcoming augmented reality app.

To give both retailers and consumers an efficient way to virtually explore their technical equipment, Mountain Hardwear worked with Transparent House, a San Francisco-based creative agency, to develop an app that lets people see how particular sleeping bags fit inside a tent or to spin a backpack to check out every buckle, pocket, and strap. At the Mountain Hardwear booth, representatives from Transparent House were on hand to demonstrate the app and answer questions about its capabilities. The full version will be ready for download in April 2019.

Initially, the app will feature Mountain Hardwear’s entire spring ’19 equipment line, including tents and backpacks. The company’s new line of Gore-Tex outerwear will be added in fall 2019. “The use of AR allows both brands to educate consumers on Gore-Tex technology and highlight the design benefits of Mountain Hardwear products in a new, visually exciting way,” says Robert Wittmann, North America digital marketing for W.L. Gore & Associates.

Mountain Hardwear claims that its app will be easier to use than other AR attempts, such as the one that Amazon built to let shoppers evaluate a lamp or rug in their home setting. It also makes product renderings look as lifelike as photos, so that buckles and other details look realistic.

“We’re not trying to eliminate the consumer at retail,” explains David Scott Van Woert of Transparent House. “We’re just trying to open up another avenue that hasn’t existed yet. And we know that many younger shoppers are very tech-savvy, and they want this kind of experience.”

The app will also let Mountain Hardwear reflect last-minute product changes. AR renderings are faster and easier to update than studio photography, which involves a multiweek process of shooting product and uploading the new images.

Plus, says Brandon, the app can become a handy tool for retailers—not just shoppers. “From REI to local brick-and-mortar stores, retailers have been very excited about it,” he says. Larger retailers that already operate their own shopping apps could integrate the Mountain Hardwear capability into it. Smaller shops can use it to showcase product that they might not have on display—like an assembled tent.

“For a tent, it’s a great application,” says Charles Wise, owner of The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, New York. Wise hadn’t spent much time exploring that app at the Mountain Hardwear booth, but he’s intrigued by its potential. “My sense is, this app could take the place of having the product on hand, in all sizes and colors, in the retail store,” he continues. “But if that’s the purpose, obviously conversion is key. Can Mountain Hardwear translate that into immediate shipping and delivery?” he wonders.

Certainly, the app extends the retail experience into the shopper’s own home—or wherever they may be. With it, they can visually “feel” product in ways that approximate the hands-on encounter at retail. In that sense, Mountain Hardwear feels like it’s expanding its suite of languages to effectively address an emerging demographic.

“We believe the ability to superimpose digital products and information on a user’s actual environment will change retail,” says Snow Burns, Mountain Hardwear’s VP of global marketing. “We don’t see technology as contrary to getting outside. We see it as an opportunity to enhance the experience.” 

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