Bed Bath and Beyond launches augmented reality for wedding registry app

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is using a universal scanner featuring augmented reality for its mobile app to enhance its annual wedding registry catalog called the Howbook.

The technology adds interactive product hotspots directly to the pages of the catalog and makes the app capable of scanning UPCs, QR codes and the product hotspots. The solution was created for Bed Bath and Beyond based on Metaio Continuous Visual Search technology.

"This application is the first fully interactive catalog," Daniel Gelder, SVP marketing, Metaio, told FierceRetailIT. While previous applications have featured the ability to "scan" a limited number of pages to receive interactive content, the Bed Bath and Beyond app is capable of recognizing every product image in the catalog. "This is a big step forward to our devices being able to 'see' our everyday world and provide us with timely, useful information," he said.

Because the app just launched, no results can be reported yet, he said. Bed Bath and Beyond, which operates more than 1,500 stores, declined to comment for this article. The free app is available for iOS and Android. IKEA, Target and Victoria's Secret are also using the technology.

Augmented reality improves or enhances the real world environment with digital information, Gelder said. "This is currently done through 'stitching' digital information into the camera feed of a smartphone or tablet. Think of it as Hollywood special effects, but in real time. In the future we can look forward to these experiences venturing out into headsets like Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens, or any other sort of advanced smart glasses that are coming to market over the next few years."

The Bed Bath and Beyond application relies on an offshoot of computer science known as "computer vision," Gelder said. In layman's terms, this means teaching devices to see more like people do by recalibrating the camera module to "understand" instead of simply capture information.

"The application can see the objects in the catalog and provide the user with information specific to that object," Gelder said.

Gelder says the integration is not complicated. "We teach our Continuous Visual Search platform a database of images, along with metadata," he said. "For example, we can load in an image of a kitchen knife set, and associate that with a video file showing the knives in action. So, whenever that image is recognized by the device, it knows to present the video to the user. We can do this on a large scale. For example, the Bed Bath and Beyond application can recognize over 1,000 different items and present content such as videos, additional imagery, and even virtual 360 experiences where the user can experience sitting inside a room through the device." 

The application contains more than 1,000 hotspots, the largest number on an app to date, he said. This means every product can be scanned and experienced in a different way. The application is "almost infinitely expandable" because it uses cloud-based technology form Metaio.

For years, retail brands have been managing their brick-and-mortar and online efforts as if they were addressing two different customers, but in reality these different platforms simply represent two facets of a single consumer's lifestyle.

"With this type of application, we are bridging the real and digital world in a convenient way," Gelder said. "It's the ultimate bridge for omnichannel strategies. That ubiquitous smartphone in your pocket suddenly becomes an intelligent shopping assistant, whether you are in-store, or at home on the sofa." 

Smart devices that can "see" the world around them are going to be "a real game-changer" for brands like Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as the rest of the retail industry.

"It means intelligent devices can take the mental arithmetic out of comparison shopping. It means brands can connect and converse with their customer base in richer, communicative ways, and it's going to put more power at the consumer's fingertips to find the right product at the right price, in the most convenient way possible," Gelder said.

For more:
-See this Metaio press release
-See this IKEA video

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