Augmented reality and a mobile app help multichannel apparel retailer Tilly’s boost store traffic and app downloads.

No risk, no reward, as the saying goes. And in an overcrowded apparel retailing world, standing out can mean taking risks. Last year, apparel and accessories retailer Tilly’s Inc. was looking for new ways to connect with its consumer base and took a flier with augmented reality.

Tilly’s invested an undisclosed amount of cash—and a considerable amount of labor—in an augmented reality promotion aiming to draw mall shoppers into one of its stores. The return on investment was not clear up front, but results included increased store traffic and more consumers downloading the Tilly’s mobile app, Jon Kubo, chief digital officer, said last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

Foot traffic in the store increased 30% from the start of the AR window installation.

Tilly’s reaches its largely young adult customer base through its website at, a mobile app and more than 200 stores in 33 states, many based in shopping malls. Augmented reality enabled Tilly’s to overlay 3D animation on shoppers’ images in its Ontario, California, store. The resulting video feed of store shoppers interacting with life-size animated figures in scenes was projected to the store’s front window, Kubo said.


3D dragon

The store, located in Ontario Mills shopping mall, brought together 3D images, an in-store video camera and a video screen nearly the size of a store window to show Tilly’s customers interacting in the store with a giant dragon, octopus tentacles dropping from the ceiling, a skateboarder riding the walls and a floating shoe.

Foot traffic in that store was up 30% from the start of the AR window installation, Kubo said in his IRCE session titled “AR Done–and Fun. Don’t Abandon that Idea You are Itching to Try.”

Tilly’s, No. 432 in the 2018 Internet Retailer Top 1000, used Inde, a Hungary-based augmented reality company, for the imagery.

Kubo didn’t address specific expenses related to the 3D modeling video promotion, but noted his research found that costs for outsourcing such an animation project could range from $7,000 to $30,000.


Shoot it yourself

Simpler imaging can be done internally, with some ingenuity. “To just shoot a shoe, I can do that myself with an iPad,” Kubo said. Related costs are around $200 he estimated, noting merchants can train staff to capture images, plus “the 3D camera cost has come way down.”

Tilly’s also used AR with its mobile app in a scavenger hunt in August tied to back-to-school shopping. To help with the promotion, Tilly’s enlisted social media personality Shaun McBride, otherwise known as Shonduras, whose followers relate to his skateboarding and daredevil adventures. He encouraged contestants in their search via the app, congratulating them when they found—by camera scan—one of three coins hidden in images placed around stores. Shoppers who found three coins received a 20% discount coupon on their phone.

That event offered a $500 shopping spree, a laptop and a trip to McBride’s “Space Station” in Utah, headquarters for his gaming company of the same name, as the grand prize. Contestants were required to download or update the mobile app and allow location tracking and phone camera access. Then, they searched stores across the country for animated coins connected to images, such as one depicting a backpack from JanSport, one of the promotion’s sponsors.


The promotion drove “tens of thousands” of entrants to stores, who yielded an 80% coupon redemption rate, 99.6% opt-in for push and location tracking via the app, and a 23% hike in-app downloads during the event, Kubo said.

Tilly’s developed and launched the promotion in about two months, which included two weeks for the rough concept, two weeks for the story boards and creative mock-ups, one week to develop a script and four days of filming with McBride and a green-screen setting. They met their tight deadline, but Kubo recommended “doubling that so your hair’s not on fire.”