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Analysis: What fashion retailers can learn from Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go has taken the digital world by storm, but can fashion retailers capitalise on the hype? And what can they learn from its phenomenal success?

Worldwide, the mobile app has over 15 million players, has had more downloads than Tinder and for one day last week had more active users than Twitter.

The augmented reality (AR) mobile app launched last Thursday (July 14) in the UK, and allows users to “catch” Pokémon characters when they are in certain locations. The app is free, and uses GPS map data to determine the location of different Pokémon, which the player can then track down in real life and catch. Certain key locations, such as town centres or monuments, are designated “PokéStops” or “Pokémon Gyms” and these are the places where the Pokémon appear.

The app requires users to hunt down their desired Pokémon by going to the location where they appear. The company behind the app, Niantic, has already included ways in which businesses can harness the potential footfall of having a Pokémon situated near their physical stores.

Businesses can purchase so-called “lures” if they happen to be situated near a PokéStop. These lures last for 30 minutes and attract Pokémon to the specified location. One lure costs 100 “PokéCoins”, which works out at around 79p. John Hanke, chief executive of Niantic, has also hinted the platform will be introducing “sponsored locations” in the near future, likely to be reserved for big businesses.

So is this a golden ticket for fashion retailers hoping to attract new customers? A number of shops happen to contain Pokémon and they have attracted huge numbers of visitors. But Luca Marini, founder and chief operating officer of womenswear brand Finery, doubts the hype will actually translate into positive benefits for retailers. “Whether it will have a positive footfall impact for physical retailers still remains to be seen,” he says. “The same was said about Foursquare years ago and results have been mixed.”

Amber Atherton, founder of jewellery brand My Flash Trash, is similarly cautious. She says that, despite the app’s unquestionable success, there is no guarantee increased footfall will lead to more sales. “I think it’s key to understand that, while the game is driving users into the weirdest locations and stores, they are not going in to buy a product,” she says. “Their focus is to get a Pokémon, so any retailers hoping to jump on the trend should bear that in mind.”

That said, it is still rare to see such a successful use of AR, while the level of hype it has generated is impressive. Jonathan Openshaw, editor of consultancy firm The Future Laboratory, believes retailers can learn from the successes of the game if they are looking to create their own technology. “If this is indeed the tipping point in AR and the phenomenon is about to go mainstream after years of high profile failures, such as Google Glass, then there’s no limit to the potential impact on retail.”

He continues: “AR projects are often disruptive and block the relationship between the user and the physical space around them. Pokémon Go seems to have cracked the code of how to use digital overlay in a way that genuinely enhances your experience of the physical world around you.”

However, Kieran O’Neill, chief executive of online styling service Thread, warns that retailers should be cautious of investing in their own AR software. “AR has been hyped before, but it’s never had a clear application until now and this is the first to gain real traction. People should be careful not to jump on the bandwagon, it seems like a flash in the pan. With a lot of games there is often a sharp rise and then a sharp crash in usage, and it will be interesting to see how this develops.”

In the future, however, O’Neill believes the kind of technology used in the game could be increasingly useful for retailers. “It’s important to understand the demographic. Boohoo and Missguided would probably find more use [for an app like Pokémon Go] than Marks & Spencer. In the future there will be a whole generation of people who have grown up familiar with AR in Snapchat and Pokémon Go. But for now people should be cautious.”

Gareth Rees-John, digital director at Topman, agrees that the real benefits of Pokémon Go will be felt in the future. He said: ”It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’ AR will enhance our brands relationship with our customer. It will depend upon your target market and their adoption rate. You shouldn’t use tech for tech’s sake.”

Julia Errens, assistant media and marketing editor at research company Stylus, believes that Pokémon Go also demonstrates a cultural passion for nostalgia, something that can be harnessed for marketing purposes. “The success of Pokémon Go builds on substantial pop-cultural caché. This cultural capital is the magic ingredient; although technology certainly was the catalyst,” she says.”For fashion retail brands, the takeaway is to surface and celebrate their own cultural capital, and then see which mobile channels can amplify it.

“The power of nostalgia should not be underestimated. Thirty-something Pokémon Go players are connecting to childhood memories of catching Pokémon on their Gameboy. Consumers have a desire to relive the glory days of pop culture.”

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