Enhancing your shopping experience with augmented reality

Researchers are developing an application using augmented reality and data to provide real-time information to consumers on products, such as price, nutrition, ingredients or product source.

Consumers these days are overloaded with data, information and advertising coming from multiple online and traditional sources. Even a routine activity such as shopping for groceries at a supermarket can provide consumers with a vast amount of messages, choices and decisions to make.

Researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Monash University are working on combining data and Augmented Reality technology to help consumers make more informed decisions, a speciality known as situated analytics.

The good and bad of choice

Josh Fear from the Australia Institute argues that while choice is seen as inherently good and a characteristic of a globalised economy, it can also have a negative impact as it could cause consumers to be overwhelmed and overcome with decision paralysis (Fear, Australia Institute, 2008). Fear cites an experiment in which two groups of supermarket shoppers were presented with a range of jams to choose from. The first had six options and the second had 24 options. After a tasting session, almost 30% of those with the limited range ended up purchasing some jam. By contrast, only 3% of those with the extensive 24 options to choose from made a purchase (Iyengar and Lepper 2000). Similar experiments were conducted with consumers choosing chocolates and students selecting an essay topic to write on, thus showing that having too much choice can be overwhelming (Iyengar and Lepper 2000).

UniSA PhD student, Neven El-sayed says consumers are surrounded by a large amount of data and information in their everyday lives. There was thus a need to develop techniques to present this information in a meaningful way to enable them to make better decisions.

Applying augmented reality techniques to the shopping context

This project is Neven’s PhD topic that she is working on in collaboration with Professor Bruce Thomas and Dr Ross Smith from UniSA’s Wearable Computer Lab. The group is also collaborating with Professor Kim Marriott and Dr Tim Dwyer from the Monash Adaptive Visualisation Lab (MArVL), and Dr Svetlana Bogomolova from UniSA’s School of Marketing.

The idea is to develop an augmented reality (AR) application that consumers can use to scan products to obtain real-time information on them. The prototype has so far been applied on an android tablet and an Epson BT200, which are Augmented Reality glasses. For example, in a supermarket context, users can wear the glasses or hold the tablet to start visually interacting with the products’ information, such as compare, sort, find, and filter them. They can for instance try to find which products are Australian made or nut-free, or compare products based on salt or energy levels.

The application can also be programmed to the users’ interests and restrictions so that it can provide details such as prices or an alert on ingredients that they are allergic too. For example, if a user has high blood pressure, the application can alert them to cold and flu medication that may be unsuitable for them. 

Testing the application with the Epson BT200 smart glasses

From the consumers’ perspective, this technology will enhance their understanding of the products they are buying and help them make informed choices. Other ideas include displaying their friends’ social media reviews on the products or social responsibility issues related to the product or company.

For marketers and retailers, this tool can be used to conduct market research to better understand consumer behaviour. The technology will also enable them to run dynamic promotional campaigns such as provide offers, games, recipes or suggestions for accompanying products. For example, if a user buys a game, it can alert them to graphics cards that they will need to buy to run it.

The next steps for the collaboration are to solve the challenges of applying the technology to large amounts of dynamic data. The team are currently working with UniSA’s School of Marketing to explore running studies at supermarkets. Down the line they are looking at installing the application onto other devices such as smart watches and mobile phones. 

This technology could greatly improve the shopping experience for consumers. Soon standing in the aisle of a supermarket faced with indecision could be a thing of the past.

The team is working run studies in supermarkets.


Amanda Vanderput

Senior Digital Officer

Division of Information Technology, Engineering and the Environment

University of South Australia

Areas of study and research

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