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Lime Crime, a makeup company uses augmented reality app for modern shopping experience in Paramus store. Amy Newman, Northjersey.com

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When customers walk into Riley Rose, the beauty and lifestyle retailer, they probably expect the usual: a smiling employee with a perfect face of makeup; the store's sleek, white interior design festooned  with colorful products; and a host of products from indie beauty brands they are unlikely to find elsewhere.

What they probably don't expect? That Lime Crime's eyeshadow palette, on display at the front of the store, will talk to you. Or that the green-haired Venus on the palette's package can walk you through a makeup tutorial.

All you need to do is download the brand's new augmented reality application on your smartphone, and the products come to life.

"They're shocked," said Blanche Howard, general manager of the Riley Rose at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus. "This is something they've never seen before. The product basically sells itself."

Riley Rose, a spin-off launched by Forever 21, has teamed up with Los Angeles-based cosmetics company Lime Crime for their first in-store augmented reality project. The technology, unveiled last month, is available at all Riley Rose locations.

As consumer shopping habits change and online competition grows, retailers have turned to augmented reality as another way to draw customers to their stores or to help brands stand out. Although the concept seems revolutionary, Lime Crime's concept was actually inspired by another sector: the retail wine industry.

Bianca Bolouri, Lime Crime's vice president of marketing, said the company was inspired by the success of Living Wine Labels, with popular versions like 19 Crimes and the Walking Dead wine series. Wine drinkers use a phone app to activate the wine's packaging, which will either tell you a crime story or, in the Walking Dead case, let you watch the dead come back to life. If you have multiple wines from the Walking Dead series, the characters from each bottle will interact.

"Why [augmented reality] works specifically for our brand is that we’ve always been about igniting different senses," Bolouri said. "We have our lip glosses that smell like cherries, and we have packaging that brings you back to the '90s. It feels like a natural transition for us to make our packaging come to life." 

How does this work?

Lime Crime's augmented reality app is easy to use, and can be accessed at the makeup gondolas inside Riley Rose, or at home if you purchase one of two products that feature the technology: the Venus XL 2 eyeshadow palette or Softwear Blush.

Using the app, the customer scans the images on the eyeshadow palette or Softwear Blush packaging, or the green circles that are on display in the store.

For the Venus palette, users are given a tutorial on the product and how to use it. If you scan the blush, a flower blossoms from the product on your screen, mimicking a hologram-style display. The user can swipe through the product's different shades.

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"Once they scan over these markers, it essentially brings both of these products to life," said Nikki Sas, Riley Rose's director of business development and operations. "The character featured on the palette begins to talk to the user about the product, about the available shades and then moves on to tutorials on how to use it, which really resonates with our consumers."

The company estimated 50 percent of app downloads come from triggers on the in-store gondolas — a sign the investment is paying off. And because the beauty world is saturated with makeup brands, it's also important for brands to offer something distinctive, Bolouri said.

"There are thousands of brands, and before it was dominated by a handful," she said. "Anything that we can do to make our shopping more fun and more education-based was sort of where we started from."

Augmented retail

Augmented reality has many forms in retail.

The furniture sector was quick to adapt.

In 2017, furniture giant IKEA launched "IKEA Place," an augmented reality app that allows consumers to see how their products would look inside their home. The products appear in 3D form. The company took advantage of Apple's ARKit technology, which made it easier for retailers to step into the augmented reality realm.

Wayfair, the online furniture retailer, launched a similar concept last year.

Inside supermarkets, augmented reality may find a home as retailers push to provide in-store experiences for shoppers, who are increasingly buying their groceries online.

Officials with Stew Leonard's have teased an augmented reality app at multiple press conferences in Paramus, where they will be opening their first New Jersey supermarket this fall. The chain is known for its popular Disney-like animatronic fruits and vegetable displays that perform shows for shoppers, and for staff wandering through the store dressed as cows and chickens. The app would be an obvious next step.

"We're built on an in-store experience. We have the animatronics to make it fun for kids," Jake Tavello, the supermarket chain's vice president, said in March. "One of the things we're working on is doing an augmented reality" for kids to enjoy shopping with their parents.

In the beauty world, augmented reality has become an industry norm. However, its forms vary.

ModiFace, a company that creates augmented reality tech for beauty brands, has been a dominant force. Their products largely have been used as "virtual try ons" — offering consumers a way to test products without actually putting them on. A similar concept has been tested in the past by clothing retailers Topshop and Gap through virtual dressing rooms.

ModiFace offers custom augmented reality modules for apps, like the Virtual Artist in-app feature used by Sephora. Users can use Virtual Artist to see how makeup looks on them. ModiFace also offers in-store augmented reality mirrors, or "smart mirrors," that offer similar features.

Beauty giant L’Oréal acquired ModiFace in 2018, and earlier this year announced the release of SkinConsultAI, a skin diagnostic application that pushes retail tech well beyond augmented reality. The technology, according to a company statement, uses artificial intelligence to scan a user's selfie, which is uploaded to a brand's website. The AI then detects signs of aging, and the user receives a "tailor made product routine," the company said.

Lime Crime's augmented reality concept inside Riley Rose stores seems just the beginning for the beauty brand's venture into the virtual world.

"Our customers are loving it, so we have no plans to stop it," Bolouri said. "The idea is to be able to add more of our franchise to the app and to the gondola, so eventually it’s a full brand experience."

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