Jordan Childs, Senior Marketing Manager, LEGO® Direct to Consumer, shares his thoughts on creating LEGO Connect, an Android and iOS app that helps connect LEGO offline and online sales channels, using Vuforia™ technology that enables apps to see.
Our 68 LEGO Stores get 40 million visitors per year.
Shop.LEGO.com in North America gets 17 million unique visitors annually and has over 700,000 registered users.
We send seven catalogs a year to more than six million people.
In other words, LEGO Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) has three robust channels and we do everything we can to bridge them. We’ve launched the LEGO Connect mobile app on both Android and iOS to make the most of this omnichannel opportunity. Now we’re using Vuforia augmented reality (AR) technology to help enhance our customers’ shopping experience and drive higher engagement through our catalogs.
A shopping enhancement app for the catalog
Last summer, our catalog partner, Quad/Graphics, walked us through some options we could build into a shopping enhancement app. The LEGOGroup had already built a large portfolio of mobile apps and a collection of 3D animations we had used for in-store displays in North America and Europe, and we were looking for new ways to connect our offline and online channels.
Besides printing, Quad/Graphics develops mobile apps that help their customers engage more deeply with subscribers and consumers. They proposed ideas like:
- AR – Fully animated, 360-degree 3D images of what a LEGO set will look like fully built, set in the context of a story and soundtrack.
- Image recognition – Integrated connections between images on the printed page and video content like destinations, designer interviews and story-based content.
- QR codes – Direct links to shop.LEGO.com for product information, user reviews and assembly instructions.
We spent about four months with Quad/Graphics developing the LEGO Connect app, then soft-launched it in January 2013 for our catalog mailing.
Our shoppers can download the app from Google Play or the App Store, then they read through our print catalog. Wherever they see the LEGO Connect icon, they can point their device, with LEGO Connect running, at the printed page to get related product content for the LEGO set displayed, including product information, offers, reviews, a link to purchase it -- and even see what it will look like as a fully assembled 3D model.
Shoppers think it’s cool because they can see an animation and get inspiration for how they can play with the model once they’ve built it. We think it’s cool because it lets us use the content and 3D images from in-store shopping for a much better shop-at-home experience using mobile devices. Letting people see assembled LEGO models while they’re shopping is what we’re after with AR.
LEGO Connect, under the hood
How did we do it?
Matt Kammerait, product manager for interactive print solutions at Quad/Graphics, ran the team that developed LEGO Connect. Using the Vuforia SDK and a variety of other development tools, they’ve put together their own platform for building interactive apps that go into devices like kiosks, point-of-sale displays, PCs, tablets and smartphones. Here are some of the details on what goes into LEGO Connect:
- Simple user interface – Like any good, consumer-oriented app, LEGO Connect masks all the image recognition, cloud retrieval and AR effects inside. In fact, even though Vuforia’s effects are cool, we’ve found that the term “augmented reality” intimidates many of our users, so we’ve boiled all the magic down to just three actions: Scan, Activate and Explore.
- Animated 3D Content – We already had a collection of ten to fifteen second, animated 3D pieces of content that worked well on our in-store displays. We modified them for a similar experience on much smaller smartphone screens and have started using four or five of them per catalog.
- Local and server-side recognition – LEGO Connect keeps a limited number of images on the device and retrieves others from cloud-based servers.
- Image management – The app manages copies of the static, printed images – or targets – on the page, the hyperlink structures to Web content, and the library of 3D animated images. It also ages content out of both the device and the cloud after a given number of days or catalog mailings.
Quad/Graphics has been with us every step of the way on LEGO Connect. “We looked into both proprietary and open source alternatives for AR as we put together our app development platform,” Matt says. “For speed of recognition and content delivery, Vuforia was ahead of most other tools out there. When we needed to enable image recognition on the high-density pages in the LEGO catalogs, we found the Vuforia development tools easy to use .”
The most important thing for us about the LEGO Connect app is added engagement with our shoppers. About 15% of total traffic to shop.LEGO.com already comes from mobile devices, and this early in the game we’re happy to get most of those same mobile users engaging with us in new ways. The biggest advantage of AR and Vuforia has been that our shoppers can enjoy our animated 3D models right in their living room. That’s allowed us to link our channels by putting our existing 3D content at a new point of engagement in addition to our stores and special events.