Walgreens partners with fellow Midwestern startup to explore augmented reality

July 9, 2014

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The days of going to a store and spending too much time searching for an item are nearly over thanks to augmented reality.

Deerfield-based Walgreens has partnered with indoor location services platform Aisle411 and Project Tango, which is a venture among Google, universities and research institutions, to develop a device with 3D modeling of a user’s surroundings using augmented reality.

The result? A tablet that acts as an in-store GPS for shoppers, complete with directions to the location of the product and special offers for users. Since June, Walgreens has been testing the technology in local stores, as well as New York, Seattle and St. Louis. The trials are running over next few months, and if all goes well, the tablets could be offered to shoppers.

Aisle411, based in St. Louis, has been working with Walgreens to develop this project for several years, Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn said.

“On our end [at Aisle411], we have an extensive database of searchable, indoor maps and already hold relationships with 12,500 retail nationwide stores ranging from Walgreens to Home Depot to Hyvee Supermarkets and more,” Pettyjohn said. “But the new partnership with Google and Walgreens creates a shopping experience unlike anything in existence—something even more relevant and convenient for shoppers.”

Relevance takes on new meaning with this product—Pettyjohn said that the technology can tell a user where an item is located within 10 centimeters of accuracy.

Although customers wandering the aisles can mean introducing them to more products, Walgreens is betting that by offering reward points to users for visiting certain aisles in the store—even if it’s not on their lists—it can be a win-win situation.

"This initiative enables us to further explore how Walgreens can create an even more convenient and relevant customer experience," a spokesperson for Walgreens said. "The test allows participants to reimagine the retail experience and explore what future enhancements could be made to better meet customer need."

This partnership continues Walgreens' recent trend of digital innovations. The company has received accolades from Webby for its QuickPrints and Refill by Scan digital features; they are some of the company's most popular outlets for consumers. In March, Walgreens' digital strategy associate Benjamin Weiss said Walgreens' digital strategy is focusing on closing the gap between a corporation and a digital innovator.

"As digital quickly grew into a core strategy, we had to balance two things: 1) becoming a leader in emerging arenas, like mobile and 2) modernizing our existing properties. We learned that companies must maintain a strong focus on what's truly important for the business," he said. "If you chase every buzzword or new technology fad, you can quickly lose sight of the most significant opportunities within your business."

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