When one of our clients approached us with the idea of building an entirely new customer engagement app for their grocery stores, we were very excited. Their goal was to build a mobile application that customers could use to learn about products, find them in the store, and make purchases using only their smartphones. Sounds awesome, right? We definitely thought so.

Although a project like this does carry a number of challenges, we hoped to create the best customer engagement app experience possible for our grocery store clients and their users. We looked at two emerging technologies that can streamline a shopping experience while making it more engaging for customers: QR codes and augmented reality (AR).

QR codes and AR can give customers more control over their shopping experience and drive engagement across an increasingly tech-savvy customer base. Here’s how.

How QR Codes Drive Customer Engagement

Seamless Payment Option

Customers can pay for their groceries at checkout by simply scanning a QR code with their grocery app. We were able to accomplish this without upgrading the existing POS systems, and since this method uses the device’s camera instead of dedicated hardware (like Apple Pay or Google Pay), we are able to support a wider range of devices including older iPhones and Android phones without NFC chips.

Personalized Coupon Integration

The store’s website already lets users order items ahead of time, which means, in many cases, users will already have a saved payment method on file. This means that this grocer could remove a frequent barrier to entry and get customers started on mobile payments with ease. Users get personalized coupons and deals if they have an account, but now those coupons will be integrated right into the mobile payment app. Customers won’t have to worry about whether or not they are getting all the possible savings when checking out.

App Download Redirect

Since QR codes are going to be displayed in the checkout lanes, we had to consider that some customers might scan the code even if they don’t have the grocery store mobile payment app installed. We use this as an opportunity to inform the customer that they are able to pay with their smartphone. If the QR code is scanned by a different scanner app, the customer will be taken to a web page where they can visit the App Store or Play Store to download the mobile payment app.

Scan to Add Items to Your Shopping List

Users can also use their phone’s camera to scan the barcode on items they have already bought in order to add them to their shopping list. The mobile app can use the barcode to fetch images of the item and tell customers where it’s located. This can make finding exactly what you want at the store even easier. And if there are any savings for that item, it will automatically be applied to your account — a far faster option for customers who otherwise would have to type out the product’s name to find it.

Streamline Account Signup

When this mobile app was first rolling out, all the existing members of the loyalty program had a card with a unique ID and a barcode. When those users signed up for an account on the mobile app, we didn’t want them to lose anything from their existing loyalty account. Instead of making the users type in a long number from the back of their loyalty card, they could just scan their unique barcode from the app and automatically link their accounts.

Another Option: Using AR to Improve the Grocery Store Customer Experience

While barcode QR codes are a useful way of improving your grocery store’s customer experience, new technologies provide an alternative for creating a more immersive customer experience. Augmented reality (AR) is growing in popularity as the technology needed for it improves. You can use it to create a fully immersive customer experience both inside and outside of your grocery store, making it easier to attract and retain customers with an easier-to-manage shopping experience.

What Is AR?

Augmented Reality is a technology that adds digital context to real-world items to the world around the user. Many companies use it to create customer experiences that combines digital information with real-world interactions in real time. For example, the IKEA Place AR experience was developed with the particular problem of fit in mind — and to allow customers to avoid mistakes and returns by allowing for 3D at-home furniture preview. In essence, AR works in a similar way to QR codes in that your camera looks at something in the world, collects data, then shows you digital information about that item in relation to the real world.

How AR Works

The most common variant of AR is target-based augmented reality. You use a smartphone camera to look at a target (either a 2D image or a 3D object) and the system recognizes the target and overlays it with contextually relevant digital information. For this to work, AR systems use detailed information about the item you’re seeing to tell what it is. This could involve 3-D mapping with point clouds and depth cameras, or recognition of 2D characters such as text or images. AR doesn’t stop at smartphones, though. Head-mounted displays can now be used in AR and are arriving to function in a hands-free manner. In many cases, this system works in real time, allowing  people to use it continuously and fluidly while working their way through a store. 

How to Use AR in Grocery Stores

For grocery stores, this means you can build a customer experience around the information customers regularly look for. For example, a customer with a restricted diet selects allergens from a list on an app, looks through their phone at a shelf full of products, and everything is color coded on the box as being safe (green) or unsafe (red). This allows the customer to quickly scan a large shelf without having to check each individual product, as well as ensuring dietary restrictions are met without any question.

Using AR Outside of the Store

Your customers can also use AR outside of the store. Weekly ads are a great way to give your customers information, coupons, and other value-added services. AR systems can work in a similar way to QR codes in that they can recognize printed images. A good example of this is the printed holiday toy catalogue distributed by Amazon. Now, if the user can recognize the image and then the app provides a to-scale model of the product for the customer to consider, that would be AR.

AR vs. QR

In some ways, image-targeting AR can be used similarly to a QR code. However, each has its unique advantages. QR codes are a widely used system, and the related infrastructure is easy to set up and use. You can quickly apply QR codes to existing print and in-store resources just by printing and adhering the code to a display. AR, on the other hand, has the potential to make a smoother customer experience without the need to change existing print and in-store materials—but the resources needed to establish AR systems are not as widespread. Although this is quickly changing, you will want to work with an augmented reality developer with experience in augmented reality app development to help you get the system up and running.

Bonus Tip

Speaking of QR codes, here’s a bonus tip from the wise: Be cautious of small barcodes! Smartphone cameras have come a long way in the past few years, but they still aren’t as sensitive as the laser scanners at the register. If you have to hold your phone so close to the barcode that the camera can’t focus, you’re going to have a bad time.

Editor’s note: This post was originally written in June 2018 and has been completely updated and revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.  

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