A senior exec at Outdoor Voices describes the DTC brand's mission to imbue an active lifestyle into its customers' shopping experience.

Retail today is all about maximizing the customer experience, from immersive pop-ups and engaging activations to AR and VR integrations and more. Using interest-piquing IRL experiences is more important than ever for driving sales from new and returning customers.

In this vein, athleisure retailer Outdoor Voices created an innovative way to blend its brand message—to get people moving, outdoors and having fun—with its products, designing a pop-up experience that directed people to outdoor trail locations where they could view exclusive merchandise from the retailer in augmented reality via their mobile phones. In an interview for a podcast, Outdoor Voices vice president of technology Kevin Harwood explained to PSFK founder Piers Fawkes how his company is leveraging technology like augmented to integrate physical activity with the shopping experience, helping further engage consumers and drive sales through mobile interfaces.

Piers: What are the retail trends that are driving your business?

Kevin: There's a couple of different areas—I see a big convergence of technology with retail and apparel, just trying to find new ways to leverage technology in order to have people experience shopping on mobile. Augmented reality's a big play right now. A lot of people are trying to figure out how can they leverage augmented reality in their business to get their customers more engaged and excited about some of the products that they're shipping. That was certainly one of the things we were looking to do when we launched OV Trail Shop.

There are other areas in mobile that are really key right now—trying to figure out native shopping experiences in mobile apps, specifically when you think about Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. How can we create different ways to check out in those experiences that don't require bouncing over to a website and completing a cumbersome mobile checkout? Instead, how can we find ways to integrate more natively in those experiences to make buying products much more seamless for those important channels?

There’s been some friction in those social media channels. It's traditionally been difficult yo get people from product image to checkout, but now things seem to be changing.

That's exactly right. Things like Apple Pay and Android Pay are great starts to help lower the barrier to checkout. There's still a lot of work that could be done directly inside some of the social media apps to make this even more seamless for customers, and obviously make it easier for brands as well. That's an area that we're definitely excited about and exploring different ways to improve in.

You describe that as ‘native shopping': can you define?”

Yeah, I call that native shopping mainly because I don't want to have to bounce out of that experience to actually go and buy anything. We definitely have the hypothesis that if you can find a more native way to keep customers inside of an Instagram or a Facebook post and be able to purchase right from those promoted ads or those posts that may have reached them organically through different influencers, that would increase mobile conversion and be more of a delight to use.

What else is driving your business?

The other trend impacting us is the omni-channel perspective. The omni-channel's been a buzzword for quite a while now, with companies like Amazon really setting the tone for shipping expectations around same and next-day delivery. It's important to find ways to meet those expectations for customers in this generation. One of the things we're looking at doing very soon is leveraging all of our retail stores in all of our markets to be last-mile delivery for those customers, so that we can start to compete with same-day delivery windows, next-day shipping and really delight our customers from a shipping perspective. That's obviously a large technical effort on the backend that we're working through right now, really trying to find a way to compete with those big guys in the business who are setting the standard for e‑commerce and shipping expectations.

Can you explain how Outdoor Voices saw an opportunity to explore and leverage augmented reality.

At Outdoor Voices, our brand motto is, “Doing Things.” That's really a way of life. Get out, be active, have fun in community. It's not bigger, faster, stronger, make sure you run your fastest mile today. It's much more about the freedom of recreation, just enjoying that recreation with friends. On our engineering team here, we wanted to come up with a new experience that was driven by technology that actually helped encourage people to get outside and be active. Technology today can often be a distraction and prevent people from getting out and being active. We wanted to flip that on its head and try to come up with a concept to encourage activity.

We wanted to blend the concept of geo‑fencing and geo‑specific features with augmented reality, which led us to the OV Trail Shop app concept. We recently had a new product launch, which was several new pieces of running gear that we had never released before. We exclusively launched those in our OV Trail Shop app, which meant that we turned on over 50 pop‑up stores overnight in 23 cities, in specific locations around each of those cities. Users had to go out and get to that space in order for the augmented reality app experience to be presented in the app. Exclusive access to the product was the carrot to get people out and be active.

People are still trying to figure out how AR actually fits into their business plan. This was a place for us to play and get customer feedback on. All of the customers who experienced this launch were just blown away by how detailed the product was, how they could get right up to it and see the seams of the textures.You could even walk around it and have your friend take a photo of you wearing the gear in augmented reality. Users were interacting with these digital products in a way that almost all of them had never done before. For many of our customers, this was their first experience of augmented reality. We got tons of positive feedback from all of our customers who got a chance to try this out.

We really think there's a lot that can be done here in the AR world, especially in apparel. I think the look of a product is so important when trying to determine if you want to purchase it. We're definitely excited about potential ways we can move this forward here in the future.

Is there something distinct about your customers—have you spent time as a brand engaging them, exciting them?

We definitely attempt to engage with our customers a lot. In fact, our CEO says, “We want to be the friend who brings the orange slices to the bike ride.” We try to be that friend to the customer that they can always count on, enjoy and look for inspiration from. We've certainly built up a lot of brand loyalty with our customers on that front. One of the interesting things we saw when we launched Trail Shop was we started with 50 locations across 23 cities. Over the course of that day, we had customers who started to engage with us saying, “Hey, can you pop up a store in Alaska? Can you pop up a store in Hawaii? Hey, I'm in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Can you pop up a store?” The way you set it up makes it trivially easy for us to turn these locations on anywhere we want to. We actually had the opportunity to follow up, turn those locations on, then respond to them right on Instagram saying, “We just turned it on a mile down the road from you, go check it out,” which gives a touchpoint with the brand that a lot of our customers never had with other companies out there. We were able to build even more brand loyalty as a result of this particular activation.

Right now, this offering is going to be in 50 different locations. What happens next?

We definitely have bigger plans for this experience. We've learned a lot just in the last month of rolling this out. We have other specific types of activities that we're looking at. Our first rollout was running, so we had a very specific running campaign. As we go into other specific recreational activities, you can imagine us turning on these pop‑up shops in parts of a city that are specific to those activities, and really start to serve as a resource for doing things and encouraging people to get out and be active.

In terms of augmented reality in general, we definitely see that being a bigger part of our overall e‑commerce experience moving forward. We're looking for ways at the moment to leverage that technology. Someone may not be able to get out to the trail that day. How can we leverage AR in a different part of the shopping experience to still give them a preview of what that product looks like in full 3D space? There's a lot that can still be done here that we're chasing down actively.

I imagine that there's a connection between the augmented reality experiences and the next-day type of delivery strategy as well?

There's certainly an overarching strategy there. At the end of the day, we want to get people out and be active, whether that means we need to make sure they get the right product or they need to buy it that night and we need to get it to them. All of that folds into our overall strategy of just being the hub for recreation for our customer.

Outdoor Voices

Using the latest technology like AR to enable thematic and adventurous shopping experiences for customers is just one way that brands are building customer rapport and increasing sales. For more from Kevin, check out PSFK's podcast, and for information on how retailers are transforming the virtual shopping experience, see PSFK's report Exploring Augmented Reality's Impact on Brand Engagement.

Lead image: Outdoor Voices via Facebook