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Pokemon GO: a Blessing or a Curse for Real Estate?

(By Dale King) If you haven’t played Pokémon GO, or, worse, if you haven’t heard of the game that’s turned a ‘90s-era Japanese cartoon figure into a 21st century cyber-adventurer, you probably haven’t spent enough dawdling time on your iPhone or Android.

The original Pokémon, a yellow, impish figure with rabbit-like ears, a cherubic face and a zig-zag tail, returned to stardom in July 2016 via the variable realities of modern-day technological devices. In barely a month, it had created a stir that captured the minds, hearts and attention spans of millions around the globe. At the same time, it either revived or opened new fields of reality-based marketing that are reverberating into other trades; in particular, the commercial and industrial real estate markets and retail sector.

Julie Whelan

Julie Whelan

Julie Whelan, head of occupier research in the Americas for CBRE Group Inc., a major commercial real estate services and investment firm, was beguiled by the game’s concept and challenged herself to research the Poké-phenomenon. Her insights are summed up in a CBRE report called “Pokémon So? How will augmented reality technology impact commercial real estate?”

“Our infatuation with Pokémon GO may eventually wane, but the game’s runaway popularity heralds imminent advancements in how people experience concepts and surroundings, including commercial real estate,” she says in her study. “While applications for augmented, virtual and mixed reality in real estate are only beginning to emerge, the technologies soon will permeate many aspects of the design, management, marketing and use of commercial buildings.”

“Pokémon GO is interesting because it brings a bunch of factors together,” she told Realty News Report. “One of them, augmented reality, is a technology that overlays digital information onto the user’s real environment.” Gamers can still see the real world in their peripheral vision, but are also aware of other “things” that present themselves via digital delivery.

This is not the same as virtual reality, Whelan stresses. With VR, which usually involves wearing a large headpiece with wrap-around visor, a person’s reality is “totally enclosed” by a digital environment. The images a person sees disappear when the head gear is removed.

“With augmented reality (AR), you still have your real world of vision. You can be wearing a device or looking through a screen but still be aware of your real environment. Then, there is a digital overlay.”

When applied to the real estate market, the overlay is the place where viewers can see images of what’s possible: Buildings that can be constructed on vacant lots, changes in streetscapes and new structures plugged into spaces between existing buildings. Digitally augmented images can also be moved around, heightened, lowered or extended by engineers, architects and others who have input into potential reality.

“From residential to commercial,” the report says, “real estate is an industry reliant on consumers experiencing the product before committing to it. In many instances, providing this experience is difficult and costly due to the intangible nature of new construction and the build-outs before they are completed, the sometimes long, geographic distance between the property and the buyer or the sheer amount of time invested in visiting numerous properties.”

In addition, “real estate companies can add elements of augmented reality to their marketing, bringing otherwise static flat brochures to life and creating a virtual pop-up book.”

Even people searching for rental units can get a boost from Pokémon GO technology. They are more likely to visit properties if there is an additional incentive. And what better boost than a game? Owners, developers and landlords can benefit by marketing their properties using AR, helping to foster more showings and, in turn, more deals.

In a nutshell, Pokémon GO challenges players to travel in real time and in their actual environment through neighborhoods, along streets and into cities to catch odd little creatures that pop up digitally on iPhone and Android screens. PokéStops and PokéGyms are high-traffic locations where participants must go to collect PokéBalls used to catch the little creatures.

If nothing else, this cyber-game gets people out of their houses. And if they can visit bars, dining spots, libraries and museums in search of fictional beings, why can’t they be directed in large numbers to malls, stores, shopping plazas and other brick-and-mortar places where a large showing of people translates to big dollars, particularly after the retail sector has lost so many shoppers to online purchasing.

“The game has created indirect marketing opportunities for businesses – social media campaigns that are more readily accepted by consumers than direct marketing,” Whelan’s research study says. “Businesses selected as PokéGyms or stops are benefitting from increased foot traffic.”

“Look at what Pokémon GO is doing for malls that are otherwise in distress? It is drawing consumers into stores, although whether they are browsing while playing is as yet undetermined. But we do know that Pokémon GO offers a real-time example of the potential for augmented reality in retail marketing by generating foot traffic.”

“Imagine the impact on the retail experience when consumers can see how clothing or makeup looks on them while virtually shopping, or how a piece of furniture looks in their home before purchasing it.”

The report says Goldman Sachs Research expects virtual and augmented reality to become an $80 billion market by 2025. Adds Whelan: “The creation of this overall experience has made the augmented reality phenomenon the next big thing for corporate marketers.”

September 2, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016

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