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How to Boost Foot Traffic in a Distracted Retail World

How can you make sure that consumers will actually follow through and visit your store, instead of “getting lost” along the way?

Marketers are struggling with this very feat. Encouraging customers to transform brand awareness into foot traffic at your store is no easy task. This is because today’s consumers are inundated with advertisements.

The bridge between brand awareness and purchase is called the attention-purchase gap (APG). Many retailers are unable close this gap or increase foot traffic in their store fronts. To close the APG and increase foot traffic in retail settings, the savvy retailer can use augmented reality (AR).

In this article, ​Sonya Bengali, Ethan Liddle, ​​Alexandra Rayas, and Joachim Scholz ​explain how augmented reality can help retailers transform brand awareness into foot traffic.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell: By merging digital information with the consumer’s perception of the physical world, marketers can use AR to transform the competitive space into what we call the experience-scape. By guiding consumers through the experience-scape, the consumers are already inside the brand’s experience – they’re hooked! We discuss how AR can create an experience-scape, three things to keep in mind when creating your own experience-scape, and why the experience-scape works so well.

How NAVI Penguins Boosted Foot Traffic

One example of a successful AR-driven retail campaign was the NAVI Penguin campaign of Tokyo’s Sunshine Aquarium. Sunshine Aquarium launched an AR campaign to increase their number of visitors, as after thirty five years of business, they felt like they had ​fallen off the radar​. Those visiting Tokyo could simply download the Penguin NAVI smartphone application, and penguins would, quite literally, lead them to the aquarium.

AR penguins were perceived through a geo-layer, which detects a user’s location through GPS and makes it seem as if real penguins were guiding the way. All the user had to do was point their phone in any direction, and follow the cute creatures to their destination.

To see for yourself how Sunshine Aquarium made it happen, check out the video below:


The campaign was a huge success. Attendance increased 152%, according to Penguin NAVI’s website, from the previous month.

Let’s take a closer look at the experience-scape and why Sunshine Aquarium AR-driven experience-scape was so successful.

Augmented Reality Creates an Experience-scape

To define the experience-scape, we must first understand the space that lies between attention and purchase. For a retailer, brand “attention” might occur when a consumer sees an advertisement for their store and “purchase” might occur when the consumer visits the retailer’s storefront.

However, the physical space between attention and purchase is full of threats, especially for retailers. With no guidance from the marketer after the initial brand awareness, the consumer is easily distracted by other competitors along the way. It is this “competitive space” where traditional retail marketing campaigns lose the focus of their consumers.

Sunshine Aquarium exemplifies a brand that used AR to create an experience-scape for their consumers to navigate. By (quite literally) guiding the consumer through this exciting and personalized experience-scape, the consumer was already inside the brand’s experience before arriving at the Aquarium.

Penguin Navi penguins increase foot traffic by guiding consumers to Sunshine Aquarium.

AR provides nonstop guidance and engagement for the consumer, shifting the competitive space into the experience-scape.

In a way, the consumer has made a commitment to the business by engaging in the brand’s AR experience-scape. For retailer marketers, this is great news! The once daunting competitive space is now under the control of the marketer. As a result, foot traffic and conversion rates increase.

3 Ways AR Creates an Experience-scape

AR can help retailers create an experience-scape for the customers, leading to increased foot traffic in their store. Sunshine Aquarium used AR to transform awareness into action with these three simple steps:

1. Put up blinders and neutralize threats
2. Create emotionally appealing content
3. Optimize AR for consumer engagement

Put up Blinders and Neutralize Threats

Getting a consumer’s attention is no easy task. It would be a shame to lose potential customers once you gain their initial attention.

AR creates a cognitive blinder so that consumers just focus on your brand’s experience.

The Penguin NAVI AR campaign paid off tremendously because consumers were already “inside” the experience before arriving at the aquarium and no longer distracted by other venues.

With a believable and intriguing AR campaign, users will be less likely to see outside factors such as other competitors and their ads. Marketers now have the ability to create an AR experience that can bridge the APG with no distractions.

The possibilities for immersion in the near future will provide a tailored guide across the APG and directly to your storefront. This strategy is still a bit cumbersome today because consumers need to hold their phones in front of them. However, once smart glasses reach mass market adoption, this will become more and more common. Marketers should experiment now to be prepared for the next level of AR experience offered by smart glasses.

Create Emotionally Appealing Content

The next step to transform attention into foot traffic is to leverage the connection the consumer creates with the brand’s experience. This is accomplished by creating emotionally appealing content.

Sunshine Aquarium did this by creating content to enhance the emotional connection humans have with penguins. Appealing to mankind’s innate instinct to follow cute animals is a somewhat artificial, but it was wildly effective for Sunshine Aquarium! The playful traits of the campaign also aligned perfectly with the brand personality of the Sunshine Aquarium itself. Besides, who wouldn’t love interacting with one of nature’s most adored friends?

Penguin NAVI creates an AR environment that allows consumers to build emotional connections with the brand in real time

Traditional retail marketing techniques cannot foster this kind of personal ​emotional engagement with the brand​. AR, on the other hand, has the ability to engage and entice consumers with emotional connections in real time.

By using AR to create emotional connections with your consumers, you too can gain control over the attention purchase gap and entice consumers in your own retail setting.

Optimize AR For Consumer Engagement

The final step to close the attention-purchase gap is to optimize your AR so that consumers can immerse themselves into the brand experience. In their ​article published in Business Horizons​, Scholz and Smith sum it up well – “marketers may increase engagement by making minor design changes to AR content or the ways in which consumers interact with AR content, other users, or bystanders.”

Sunshine Aquarium’s AR campaign integrated 3D penguins in the consumer’s world, a concept called context integration. This allowed consumers to insert themselves into the narrative, where cute and cuddly penguins guided them to the aquarium, an immersive experience creating smiles all around. Users could also spread the contagious energy with friends and bystanders.

For Sunshine Aquarium, this enhanced engagement and immersion into the brand ultimately guided thousands of consumers from attention to purchase.

However, a simple way to increase immersion would be to have penguins interact with the world more seamlessly. They could stop at crosswalks and ride the bus with users, for example.

Another suggestion for a well integrated campaign is to begin the experience with an enticing suggestion to enter. A bogus window in the subway station with some penguins tapping on the glass, perhaps. This is a great example of multiple AR paradigms working together.

By following these three steps – putting up blinders, creating emotionally appealing content, and optimizing your AR for user engagement – you will be well on your way to closing the attention-purchase gap.

The Experience-scape Can Keep Consumers Engaged in the Post-Choice Mindset

Why should marketers consider creating an experience-scape via AR? Because it allows consumers to start the retail experience even before they enter the store, and thus capture consumers who are in a completely different frame of mind.

In traditional retail experiences, consumers are in a pre-choice mindset. Their guard is up, protecting themselves from manipulative advertising intents.

When AR is used to create an experience-scape, marketers can follow and engage consumers along their journey in the experience-focused, or post-choice mindset.

In essence, the experience starts before​ consumers enter the retail location. Now, the journey to the location is part of the fun!

This post-choice mindset is similar to going on an all-inclusive vacation. Since the vacation is already paid for, the consumer will focus solely on the excitement of what is to come. This immerses them into the experience-scape without evaluating other choices.

You can use this for your own brand and retail locations. AR can provide an early entry point to your brand’s experience-scape in a fun, quirky and non-threatening way. By immersing consumers in an experience-scape, their focus shifts from purchasing to already enjoying the brand’s experience.

Future of Retail Marketing

In conclusion, by using AR in retail settings, marketers can focus on the experience-scape to create the best retail strategy.

As the consumer enters the experience-scape, they stop doubting and start enjoying.

You can use AR to close the attention-purchase gap in your own retail business. To do this, focus on developing blinders to neutralize threats, creating emotionally appealing content, and optimizing your AR for consumer engagement.

Remember, for this last step you must integrate the AR scenario into the context of the user’s surroundings. More integration will effectively guide the consumer through the APG and immerse them in the brand’s experience-scape.

By using these tactics, AR will increase brand engagement, bringing more foot traffic into your retail store.

To keep up to date with emerging marketing techniques, subscribe to MarketingSquad.net for upcoming articles on the latest and greatest AR campaigns.

This post was written by Sonya Bengali, Ethan Liddle, Alexandra Rayas, and Dr. Joachim Scholz. The authors thank Sonya Bengali for her help in editing this article. Please follow the authors on Twitter for more information on this topic.
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