Walmart is giving augmented reality a shot. The retailer today announced the launch of a new AR scanning tool in its iPhone application which will help customers with product comparisons. However, unlike a typical barcode scanner meant only to compare prices on one item at a time, Walmart’s AR scanner can be panned about across store shelves, offering details on pricing and customer ratings beneath the products it sees.
The technology was first developed by a team at an internal Walmart hackathon using Apple’s ARKit technology. At the time, their idea was to create a scanning experience that worked faster and felt faster when used by customers. They also wanted to build a scanner that offered more than just price comparisons.
“Walmart store shoppers love using our mobile app barcode scanner as a price checker. Our team sees the potential of this product as so much more, though,” explains Tim Sears, senior engineering manager at Walmart Labs, in a post announcing the feature’s launch. “When a customer launches the scanner, they get a direct connection between the digital and the physical world that their screen and camera lens creates for them,” he says.
The team won the hackathon, then went on to further redesign the experience to become the one that’s live today in Walmart’s application.
To use the scanner, you launch the feature in the Walmart app, then point it at the products on the shelf you want to compare. As you move the phone between one item and the other, the product tile at the bottom of the screen will update with information, including the product name, price and star rating across however many reviews it has received on Walmart.com. A link to related products is also available.
The AR scanner was designed to anchor dots to what you’ve scanned, but uses smaller dots instead of anchoring the entire content to the product itself to overcome the problems that could occur when multiple items are scanned together in a close space.
Despite the supposed advantages of AR scanning over a simpler barcode scan, it still remains to be seen to what extent consumers will adopt the feature now that it’s live.
Walmart isn’t the only retailer to give AR a go. Others have used it in various ways, including Amazon, Target, Wayfair and many more. But in several cases, AR’s adoption by retailers have been focused on visualizing products in your home, or — in the case of Target’s AR “studio” — makeup on your face.
Walmart’s AR scanner goes after a more practical use.
The AR Scanner is in the latest version of the Walmart iOS app (18.20 and higher), and works on iPhones that run at least iOS 11.3. This latter requirement is due to its use of ARKit 1.5, but will limit the audience largely to those with newer iPhones.