Augmented Reality for Retail Experiences

This is my second blog post to recap my augmented reality prototyping workshop at UX Lisbon. If you want to read the general overview, you can find it here.

Canned fish, or conserva, is an elevated experience in Portugal and some of the UX Lisbon students wanted to feature it in their AR creation. Image credit: Joseph Hernandez / Chicago Tribune

I taught an introduction to augmented reality (AR) prototyping while I was at UX Lisbon in May 2019. The brief that I gave the workshop participants was to build a retail experience, a children’s storybook, or an object tutorial in AR. In this blog post I am featuring one team’s output because it highlights a specific retail use case around product discovery.

This is me describing the brief in the workshop. Image credit: David Martins

One team chose to build an AR retail experience focused on canned food, or conserva. They chose conserva because it can be an overwhelming experience to shop for it in Portugal due to the large product assortment. Conserva is typically fresh fish that’s been poached in water or olive oil, and then flavored with garlic, lemon, fennel, etc.

Some Americans might be able to relate to product confusion, especially if they’ve ever encountered the the U.S. based Chicken of the Sea brand of tuna.

One Newlyweds episode includes Jessica Simpson asking Nick Lachey clarification about Chicken of the Sea.

Getting back to conserva. There are so many varieties of fish and meat offered, plus some are full meals with vegetables added and some aren’t, etc. To simplify the discovery process, one workshop team built an AR tool that would quickly visualize what’s inside the cans.

Disclaimer: This is a prototype that was built in less than 30 minutes. Shipping an experience would require more work, but the concept is strong enough that I wanted to share it.

The experience was built by creating one scene for each animal tin and then linking the scenes together. It worked by tapping on a tin and activating the interaction to display what animal is featured inside — squid, fish, snail, or chicken. Then tap the phone screen to move to the next screen.

And just for reference of what an actual conserva store looks like in Portugal, here is a photo from one that I found in the Lisbon airport. You might imagine that there would be signage to communicate what was in each of tins. However, that was not what the designers of this store prioritized. Instead, this store focused on creating a feeling that you are about to enter a carnival.

Photo from a store in the Lisbon airport. Conserva, or canned food, has a long history in maritime Portugal.

Here’s a video that I took in the store — it was full of whimsy.

There was a mobile sculpture on the ceiling, quirky organ music and circus-y vibe. If there had been an aerial artist performing on a tightrope, that would have felt right to me. It was among the most interesting retail experiences that I’ve ever had. It genuinely gave me a festive feeling, which is rare for airport retail.

From a brand experience standpoint, it was an extremely welcoming store and I would go back. However, from a product discovery perspective, it was difficult to navigate. I didn’t buy anything. I had no idea what I was buying. This presents a use case for using AR to communicate information that the physical store doesn’t.

Providing a digital overlay instead of physical signage would have some benefits. First, it would still allow the retailer to keep the emotional focus of the store as carnival. Second, considering that this store was located inside of an international airport, the AR experience could be customized to any language so that the user could choose to read the conserva product details in English, French, Chinese, etc.

As AR experiences become more accessible in the coming years, I’m interested to see how retailers make choices about what type of experiences they decide to build. Here’s one example of how a store could provide pragmatic information that their current retail experiences doesn’t.

Contact me if you would like a customized AR training workshop for your UX design team or conference. You can see more about my background at




Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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