Augmented Reality in Your Daily Coffee
Irwin Miller in Los Angeles, Retail, Retail, Technology

Last week Apple announced a new, free App called Apple Store that allows customers to use their iPhone or iPad to scan a UPC barcode in any Apple Store and – using EasyPay – login with their user ID and pay for the item with the credit card on file. A receipt finalizes the purchase, sent directly to the customer’s device, or via email.

What this means is that the consumers now have the option to learn a little something about a product at the store, test it out on display and, when they are ready to purchase, they no longer need to find a T-shirted salesperson but can do the entire transaction themselves. Apparently when similar technologies were tested, losses did not increase dramatically so the potential is of course that the App can increase sales from individuals who might otherwise leave the store due to long lines or lack of service.

The other feature of the App is the ability to find the item online at home then order for pickup in the physical Apple Store. This is not a new trend but at twelve minutes the tested turnaround times are faster than the norm. This pre-ordering feature has become pretty standard for many retailers over the past two years but Apple will most likely strive to differentiate their offering with greater customer service and speed of delivery.

In a similar vein to owning and making the retail experience immensely personal is the new Starbucks Cup Magic App that was released yesterday. The free App for iPhone and Android devices utilizes the phone's camera to immerse the user into an augmented reality (AR) world by scanning a Starbucks holiday cup, bringing the 2D printed characters to life. Visitors can collect the characters in a virtual world on their smartphones and share photos and Facebook updates of their experiences with the playful animated scenes.

Starbucks has also placed key seasonal ads that can be activated by the AR App in their stores – allowing consumers to get the added bonus for visiting a brick-and-mortar location. What appeals to me is that the cup is still a cup: the AR does not interfere with the primary experience of consuming a Starbucks beverage – this App only adds a little entertainment to the experience but does not diminish it or make you do extra work just to get your caffeine fix.

Both Apps make it apparent that the 'novelty' of interactive digital media such as mobile phone applications is no longer an added treat for the consumer but that the Apps are real tools of the retail shopping experience. The Starbucks App may be lighthearted in this incarnation but imagine when, through a similar AR App, your phone can see how that item will look in your home, how that shirt will look on you, how that picture will look when placed on your wall or which IKEA cabinet actually fits into that space. Some of these applications are already occurring in limited release but as they become more common through major retailers like Apple and Starbucks, the very near future has technology like this affecting not only the way we shop but how we live our daily lives.

Irwin Miller
Irwin Miller is a co-leader of Gensler’s global retail practice, and a design principal in the Los Angeles office. Focused on brand integration and user experience in retail environments, Irwin is forever motivated by his own daily encounters with design – finding inspirations everywhere from the county fair to summer holidays with family in Europe. Contact him at
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