Oath’s Sarah Martinez: AR/VR Is More Than A Creative Ad Format – It’s Transforming The Retail Experience

"Pottery Barn and The Home Depot both saw an average of 2+ minutes interacting with their new AR ads," says Martinez. "Compare this to the standard engagement time of 13.14 seconds."

Discussion of augmented reality and virtual reality in retail circles over the past few years have veered from excitement to “we’re not sure about the use cases.”

Sarah Martinez, VP & Industry Lead, Retail, at Verizon’s Oath, has been intensely focused on the use cases for AR/VR, as well as artificial intelligence and voice activation, in the retail context — and she told us why she’s particularly optimistic about the way emerging technologies are helping brands rise to the challenge of e-commerce and “on-demand” consumers’ online/offline shopping expectations.

GeoMarketing: There’s been a lot commentary about the “retailapocalypse,” but the “state of retail” is obviously a bit more complex than a hyperbolic buzzword can capture. What’s your take on where retail is today? What’s your sense of where the main challenges and opportunities are?

Sarah Martinez: We should look at this as a transformative time for retail. While the growth of e-commerce has been astounding and there have been some mainstay brick & mortar closures, there’s also an important shift towards consumer-first, personalized, omnichannel strategies among retail marketers.

Omnichannel technology has fundamentally changed the way we shop; it’s given consumers unparalleled transparency and access to product prices and options. While some brands have been faster to adopt an omnichannel approach, I believe that’s where the real opportunities lie for the entire retail industry.

Taking a step further, mobile is essential to any omnichannel strategy, from customer acquisition to solidifying brand loyalty. This isn’t just about reaching your target audience. It’s about understanding them based on real actions and interests and capturing their hearts and minds with premium content in order to grow meaningful relationships over time. It’s the only way to stay top of mind with consumers who have choices galore.

However, you can’t start until your house is in order. Meaning, retailers must take a look at their internal structure to ensure that the social buying team is synced with display and video. When retailers remain siloed in the ways they buy media, there are missed opportunities to leverage the full funnel omnichannel approach.

“It’s clear that AR is more than a creative advertising format, it’s transformative for the mobile shopping experience,” says Sarah Martinez, Vice President & Industry Lead, Retail, Oath

As evidenced during your conversation with Wayfair’s Jess Jacobs and Nike’s Ron Faris, AR/VR appear to have made the leap from experimental to practical applications for retailers. What’s your view of how relevant those tools are for retailers and consumers? How can brands determine what’s a “gimmick” and what’s actionable when evaluating those technologies?

There have been major advancements to take AR/VR from experimental to practical. The key is to look for new technologies that bring consumers utility. But it doesn’t stop with AR; from vertical video with a full screen canvas to mobile wallet coupon integrations, new advancements provide consumers with simple and enhanced brand experiences. For example, we introduced a new ad that allows consumers to tap to save special offers to their mobile wallet. Once saved, brands can later alert consumers to special deals via mobile lock-screen notifications. It’s a streamlined experience for users, making their shopping experience that much better.

The best way for brands to distinguish between impactful advertising technologies and the buzzy gimmicks, is to look for that utility.

Voice activation via AI-powered assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are quickly becoming mainstream. What sort of impact is voice search and voice activation having on retailers right now? What sort of impact do you see for voice in the future? Is it feasible for retailers to use voice assistants in-store to augment customer service?

Convenience is key for today’s on the go consumer. Voice search and voice activation are making a great impact on that front.

How are mobile payment and loyalty programs evolving for retailers?

This is a huge area for growth, especially when it comes to mobile wallet integrations. In fact, eMarketer recently found 60% of smartphone users expect to use mobile coupons in 2018, and 25% will use their phones to make a mobile payment at the point-of-sale.

We’ve been piloting new ads that deliver mobile offers and that’s a great new way to move them to the point of sale. It’s incredibly seamless, and a tool brands and shoppers are quickly adopting.

Loyalty programs have been a mainstay of the retail industry, but they’re also changing with the shopper. Brands today should ask how their loyalty program will drive the in-store experience. With today’s multi-channel shopper, brands must connect with consumers through innovative, mobile moments, and offer premium content experiences that map back to the point of sale. Successful loyalty programs must be mobile-best, and bring the user utility.

Sarah Martinez, Oath’s VP, Industry Lead Retail & QSR, moderates the Ad Club of NY’s Verticals series on retail with Ron Faris, GM of Nike’s s23NYC Digital Studio and Global GM, of Nike’s SNKRS app, and Jessica Jacobs, director of Marketing, Wayfair.

Geo-targeting and location analytics accuracy seems remains a perennial problem for brands. How can retailers make these tools more effective?

Mobile has created an entirely new opportunity for brands to influence consumers with location-based advertising, inspiring shoppers to visit nearby stores. The promise of geo-targeting for brands is a more relevant, timely ad experience for their customers. However, it’s critical for brands to work with the right partners and leverage accurate data to deliver on this.Geo-targeting and location analytics must be applied to a cross-device strategy. That’s really what will enable more effective reach.

Is there anything you’re working on that has shown how mobility and tech can advance retailers’ marketing strategies? Are there any technologies or brands that are pointing the way for retail?

Earlier I mentioned the application of augmented reality (AR) in advertising. We’ve seen firsthand how AR ad formats offer shoppers an incredibly enhanced experience, while also providing the utility today’s consumer demands.

We’ve been testing new ad formats with some of the world’s leading brands, including The Home Depot and Pottery Barn, and are seeing incredible traction and positive performance. Within the AR ad, shoppers could select pieces of furniture and virtually place those items in their living space, all on their mobile device. Pottery Barn and The Home Depot both saw an average of 2+ minutes interacting with the new AR ad. Compare this to the standard engagement time for mobile rich media, which is 13.14 seconds. It’s clear that AR is more than a creative advertising format, it’s transformative for the mobile shopping experience.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.