Pokemon Go has been made available for UK consumers today – what does its use of augmented reality and location tracking mean for retail?

The free mobile app erupted onto the scene in the US last week and has already been ranked by Survey Monkey as the most popular mobile game ever in the US, notching up an eye-watering 21 million active daily users. 

The Nintendo app, which is also available to Apple and Android smartphone users in Australia and Germany, has been unleashed in the UK today. But what is it and why should retailers care about it?

Pokemon Go is a gaming app that allows users to hunt and catch Pokemon character animations, which are super-imposed over a real-world environment.

It combines augmented reality and location tracking, two technologies that have been on UK retailers’ radars in recent years.

Theo Theodorou, EMEA general manager of location-based marketing specialist xAd, which works for retailers including Asda, tells Retail Week: “There’s always a tipping point in any space when something brings technology that already exists to the forefront of everyone’s mind and for location tracking and augmented technology Pokemon Go is that watershed moment.”

“It’s great news for retailers as it’s really demonstrating how to harness the power of shoppers’ locations through the number one screen that shoppers are using every day.”

Hunting on the high street

Some independent bricks-and-mortar retailers are already gaining benefits from Pokemon Go in the US by setting up ‘lures’ in their stores, which attract Pokemon Go users who may also make purchases in the shop.

There are also in-app ‘gyms’ and ‘pokestops’ - real locations which feature in the game and where players can collect rewards - so retail outlets near such locations can also expect an uplift in footfall through their stores.

Media agency Carat Global’s head of media futures Dan Calladine says: “If a ’pokéstop’ is near where you are you can advertise that on your Facebook and interact with people catching Pokemon nearby – it could be a really cost-efficient way of getting potential shoppers through retailers’ doors.

“It’s about how retailers get new sorts of customers to spend money they wouldn’t usually spend. People will be walking around with an open, exploratory mindset in areas of town they might not have been before and retailers could really take advantage of that increased customer traffic.”

However, Theodorou warns against marketers reaching out to Pokemon Go users too quickly.

“Retailers really need to ask the question of how valuable that trend is – would they rather drive new people into their bricks-and-mortar stores or ensure their existing customers have an undisrupted shopping experience?” he asks.

Getting pennies from Pokeballs

Although it’s early days for the gaming app, retailers might not have to wait long until they can have their stores listed on the platform. 

Pokemon Go app developer Niantic’s chief executive John Hanke has reportedly said that “sponsored locations” would provide a new revenue stream for Pokemon Go alongside in-app purchases.

If that development came to fruition retailers could stand to gain huge exposure for their bricks-and-mortar outlets, which could provide a significant boon to retailers of all sizes.

“There will be opportunities for people to buy location-based advertising on it, Nintendo seem to be monetising it quite cleverly already,” says Calladine.

“There’s lots of scope for people to be quite creative around this location based and augmented reality technology and lots of way retailers could piggy back on it to disrupt and make it their own.”

High street footfall has been on a downward trajectory in recent months and Brexit anxiety has impacted consumer confidence. As retail’s vital golden quarter approaches, could Pokemon Go provided an unexpected windfall for bricks-and-mortar stores?

“Pokemon Go is one thing but we’ll see a lot of new ways that this technology can drive new traffic – it’s limitless and this app will really put it at the forefront of retailers’ mind,” says Theodorou.