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How digital and real-life experiences are destined to merge

6 minute read

June 4, 2018

Last Updated: November 16, 2021

Digital technology has made its presence felt in virtually every corner of our lives. We conduct more of our daily tasks and leisure activities online than we ever have done before – an average of 6.9 hours per day is now spent engaging with digital content in the UK – but many predict that soon it won’t just be via our smartphones that we get our fix.

Forward-thinking businesses are looking to integrate the latest digital technologies into ‘real-life’ spaces, and the plan is that we won’t have to be constantly attached to our phones to experience it. It’s early days, but of course it’ll all be powered by data. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the different ways companies are merging digital and real-life spaces to create some truly unique customer experiences.

Blurring the lines between the physical and the digital

The boundaries between digital and real-life spheres have already become far less distinct in recent years. We’ve seen a huge number of digital characters and objects appear in the world around us thanks to applications of Augmented Reality (AR), like Pokémon GO and IKEA Place, and physical objects are becoming increasingly digitised and connected as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). But where AR apps still rely on us using a phone or tablet to place the digital in the real world, the next wave of technology seeks to make the integration much more seamless.

IKEA AR App

The biggest players in technology and innovation are investing huge amounts in wearable immersive technology that can do just that; enable smooth assimilation between the digital and the real. While Virtual Reality (VR) headsets completely immerse users in a digital environment, Mixed Reality (MR) headsets combine the two worlds so that users can interact with both simultaneously. Microsoft’s HoloLens can actually overlay 3D holograms onto a real environment for work or gaming, and can even enable video chat with hologram versions of your friends and family.

At the moment, many VR and MR applications are being developed specifically with immersive gaming in mind, but the digital/physical trend is signaling a drastic shift that means more traditional businesses may soon need to adapt and evolve to stay relevant. Here’s how some companies are already experimenting with the new wave of technology.

Reinventing the shopping experience

The high street has been forced to update itself to compete with the sheer convenience of online shopping, but as our investigation into 2017’s Christmas consumer habits showed, many of us still enjoy actually visiting brick and mortar stores for our shopping experience. High street retailers are increasingly embracing data-led shopping experiences, such as in-store customisation, to keep consumers engaged, but the idea of merging digital and physical on the high street arguably offers even more scope to win back shopper’s attention and loyalty.

Back in 2015, British fashion retailer Ted Baker launched a virtual, shoppable version of its new Shoreditch store to coincide with its grand opening. Meaning that from the comfort of their own homes, shoppers could ‘walk’ around a pristine and empty panoramic version of the store, browse the rails and view items up close as they would in real-life, and then click straight through to the online store to buy them. It could be argued that the virtual store was just a different, and more innovative, form of online shopping, but we think the brand succeeded in creating a completely different experience; a virtual ‘private shopping’ session and a sneak peek of a beautiful concept space without leaving the house, and crucially, without any of the annoyances or inconvenience of a real shopping trip.

While Ted Baker has sought ways to create a real-life shopping experience online, fellow fashion brand Zara has similarly attempted to make one of their physical stores more digital. Zara opened a ‘stock-free’ shop in London, within which shoppers could browse and try on the clothing, but then order what they want using in-store tablets, or at home to be delivered over the next couple of days. Not only does Zara’s concept have the potential to revolutionise their in-store stock control, but it also allows for new uses within the retail space, whether it’s for coffee bars or art exhibitions, making room for the kind of next-generation social, cultural and retail hubs some believe could reinvigorate the high street.

Reconnecting with the world through Augmented Reality

We’ve already mentioned the fact that most of us are never without our phones, and some app developers are leveraging this in the hope that AR could help us reconnect with the world around us. Blippar is an AR-powered browser that enables users to scan, or ‘blipp’ any real-life object with their phone or tablet to bring up informative and entertaining content related to it. Global brands such as Nestle and L’Oreal have created immersive content for the Blippar app, which users can unlock if they scan their products.

The Word Lens feature of Google Translate is another practical use of AR that’s designed to help us connect and we can use on our smartphones. Instantly converting text from a language we don’t understand into our native dialect. Rather than perpetuating the ‘smartphone bubble’ that separates us from the real world, apps like Blippar and Google Translate could encourage us to interact more with what is actually around us.

Further bridging the gap between digital and real-life in a way which is easily and conveniently accessible to almost everyone around the world.

Google Lens

Reengaging with live sport from the stands or your sofa

The crossover between digital and physical experiences is also transforming the way we watch and spectate live sports, whether you’re there in-person or not. Action at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics earlier this year was captured live by Intel® True VR technology, enabling viewers (with headsets at home) to enhance their experience by choosing different viewing angles, adding multi-camera screens, graphic overlays and real-time stats on competitors and events. Although this example is referred to as VR technology, Intel’s tech can be seen more as a form of MR, since it broadcasts real-life events and digitally augments it to viewer specifications.

Even fans who travel to see their teams compete live can find their experience enriched and enhanced by digital technology. US tech company Xperiel is planning to turn major stadiums into fully interactive and ‘gamified’ spaces via a combination of AR and IoT. Their aim is to link up all the technology in the stadium, from the ticket scanners to the turnstiles, so that virtually everything fans interact with is overlaid with additional immersive content. With data-driven features that let them catch virtual t-shirts launched into the crowd, generate extra foot traffic and revenue for concessions through mini-games and predict what will happen next on the field – competing for points with everyone else in the stadium.

Much of the delivery of this technology happens through a phone, but the fact that tangible objects in the stadium can be involved in the interactivity, opens this sort of fan experience to a new level of digital and physical richness which can be adapted and used in almost endless ways.

Realising opportunities for emerging technologies

Whatever happens next in this exciting area of tech, it’s fair to say that any business wanting to discover the opportunities it presents for them will need a robust data strategy and the ability to extract meaningful insights from it. If literally any space or object, virtual or physical, can be augmented to offer an enhanced experience, the true scope for businesses could be truly vast.

Saying this, while developing technologies like VR, AR and MR can dazzle and delight consumers, without good-quality customer data driving them, any application is in danger of existing purely for its own sake. What’s more, applications should constantly generate actionable data based on the way consumers use and engage with them, so that businesses can continue to derive intelligence that allows them to fine-tune their customer offering and experiences.

It’ll be interesting to see how the tech matures, but in the meantime, find out how we’re working with the latest technology to deliver Business Intelligence, CRM and Advanced Analytics to brands we work with. Or get in touch with the team to find out how our data know-how could enable your business to capitalise on new technologies.

Posted by Pinar Dost

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How digital and real-life experiences are destined to merge

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