Discount store behemoth Walmart is really stretching its high-tech legs this month.
First, it added Sharp’s 60-, 70- and (in some stores) 80-inch mega-sized Aquos LCD TVs to its in-store flat-panel TV assortment; then it rolled out the first-ever in-store disc-to-digital campaign. Now, effective Thursday, it has introduced the first-ever “augmented reality” merchandising campaign leveraging shoppers’ Andriod or iOS smartphones and tablets to celebrate the May 4 premiere of Marvel Comic’s “The Avengers” movie and all the licensing goodness that goes along with that.
This latest development is, if nothing else, a marvel for the use of interactive handheld device apps to bring customers into stores and engage them - instead of enabling “showrooming” e-commerce interlopers like Amazon to take business away with smartphone-empowered low-ball counter offers.
A free app, which is available now for download through the iTunes App Store or the Android Marketplace, includes two modes. One is a Super Hero Augmented Reality (AR) game featuring Avengers superheroes: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow. The other is a photo capture mode that is activated from Marvel’s The Avengers DVD pallet in-store and produces a 3-D model image of a superhero that becomes visible on the phone’s screen. Shoppers may take a photo with the image alongside a companion standing near the display and then share the picture with friends on Facebook or via email.
The app will be available to play across Walmart’s 3,500 store outlets and will tie in with 20,000 movie screens showing the flick, beginning May 4.
The concept is this: Apps/video game developer Boost-AR was commissioned by AD Dispatch to develop a gaming app that encourages Walmart shoppers to walk the floors of the store and use their handheld devices’ built-in cameras to play the game by collecting various “components of the game at each display” or view the hidden virtual 3D graphic images.
Using the photo capture mode, participants travel throughout the store’s departments searching for each of the interactive displays, giving Walmart an opportunity to also introduce shoppers to a slew of Avengers-licensed merchandise, pertaining to each department’s product categories.
In the electronics department that would include a tie-in with T-Mobile devices and services, logically enough.
Beginning on April 26, T-Mobile representatives will help customers navigate the terrain and unlock each superhero’s power, bringing them one step closer to defeating Loki and saving the world in the final level of the game.
In select stores, the grocery section will also offer shoppers food and beverage samples of Avengers-themed products, such as Dr. Pepper, Red Baron Pizza and Hershey’s chocolate candies.
The game portion of the app includes a first-person shooter allowing the user to sling virtual arrows from a crossbow at virtual space ships flying around the real environment in the camera’s field of view.
Fans who want to continue the experience outside the store will have another shot at bringing both Black Widow and Hawkeye to life by visiting www.walmart.com/theavengers and looking for an image of Black Widow to bring her to life, or find a Hawkeye image in the April 29 Walmart newspaper circular and utilize the Super Hero AR app to activate the feature.
Mark Rhodes, Marvel Comics retail development senior VP, said the augmented reality program is a win/win/win/win for his company’s licensing business, the movie’s promotion, product vendors’ Avenger-licensed goods and Walmart’s customer foot traffic.
“About 45 percent of phone-carrying individuals have the ability to participate in this,” Rhodes said. “The payoff is how we can drive traffic and move merchandise throughout the stores.”