Google Glass is all the buzz. Google is advertising it as a way for users to share their experiences with others or to gather information about their environment. But it’s a very short leap to using the glasses for advertising and paid search as an extension of the online search engine.  Instantaneous ads and information that adapt to one’s surroundings and personal preferences could be the hallmark of this “augmented reality” as some skeptics have already humorously suggested.

Will Glass – and augmented reality – be a marketing boon? Maybe. Yihaodian in China has already taken augmented reality one step further with the launch of its virtual stores.  Last month my colleague argued that “mobile phones are taking over our lives” and the Yihaodian model supports this; using a cellphone app, shoppers can shop from virtual 3D stores  out of thin air.

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But I believe that, at the heart, human beings are still social animals and will therefore expect a human, social component in this augmented reality world. 
This could be as simple as using Google glasses to let shoppers share shopping experience with friends remotely. Or it could be as complex as retailer collaboration with Google providing shoppers with a personalized multi-channel experience with customized store recommendations, on-demand couponing and virtual wallet checkout at the local store.
What will it take to make these things happen? Retailers will need to expand their data mining capabilities, integrate with systems like Glass (or already, your GPS-enabled smartphone) and apply smart analytics. And they will have to address consumer privacy concerns (which may be the biggest hurdle of all)…. which means they will have to build trust.
Imagine how that might work. Consider the case of an average shopper, say a young woman planning her wedding.  Her customer journey starts with an internet search that could leave her overwhelmed (type “wedding planning” into Google and you get over 126 million results). But the savvy retailer with an attractive online web presence intrigues her with an offer. She is asked to register on its site. Providing her name and email address gets her signed up to the store’s mailing list. But that’s not where the value lies.
Imagine if the retailer is able to build enough trust to get her to part with more information. How? By providing a forum for her to discuss preparations with other brides-to-be. By letting customers share their (positive and negative) experiences – in short by creating community. Sharing her measurements lets the shopper create an online model to test drive styles before going to the store. Providing her postal code lets her know whether a dress is available at a nearby store. Linking her Facebook or Pinterest account lets her share favorites with her bridesmaids, while teaching the retailer about her style preferences.

Each time she parts with more information, she does so because she perceives incremental value in doing so. The retailer in turn builds a sense of trust and community by letting her and others communicate freely, and by providing visibility into its own processes – stock status, anticipated turnaround time, etc.
But this journey will not be completed online alone. Here is where augmented reality comes into play. As our young woman goes shopping at the local mall she receives a text message, based on her location, that the item she previously “favorited” is in stock at a nearby store. The text message provides directions (or in the brave new world, her Google glasses do).  The store further tempts her with the promise of a custom gift.  Once she is there, equipped with Google glasses, she shares her dress fitting with her bridesmaids who vote on their preferences. Based on her final selection, images of recommended bridesmaids’ dresses pop up in her peripheral vision.
This is not a technology story. It is a relationship story.  Technology is an exciting enabler but it is only that – an enabler. Its true value lies in creating and strengthening human connections. Connection requires retailers to foster real relationships, to find consistent ways to surprise and delight customers, to integrate into their lives and to be nimble in adapting to their wants and needs, consistently over time.  That’s far cooler than a pair of space age glasses.