December 31, 2011, 12:00 AM

Try a bracelet online? Ice has a cool app for that

In one of the more innovative efforts to bridge the gap between in-store and online shopping, Ice.com is offering a mobile app that uses augmented reality technology to let online shoppers see what a particular ring would like on a real-time image of their finger.

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Online retailers keep trying to overcome the shortfalls of shopping on the web instead of in stores, where, for instance, a prospective bride could try on a wedding band before ordering it. Now Ice is letting her try it on anywhere with a mobile app designed with augmented reality technology.

Virtually try it on, that is. The new app lets a shopper see how jewelry would look while she's wearing it, by using her mobile phone's camera to mash up an image of her hand or wrist with an image of a ring or bracelet for sale on Ice.com.

Sounds pretty gee-whiz, but for Ice CEO Shmuel Gniwisch, it's a practical way for Ice to compete with the in-store experience offered by traditional jewelry retailers, and get more shoppers to complete their jewelry shopping trips online. "You know you will convert a certain amount of people, but the more tools you give them, you will up the conversion," he says.

"It's also about engagement with the brand," he adds. "People will get to know that Ice is the place I can try that ring on. And as a result there's a better chance they will buy it."

The Ice mobile app, available initially for the iPhone with plans to include Android devices, enables consumers to shop the jeweler's complete catalog of products. When a shopper finds a ring she likes, she touches a "Try It On" button on the product detail page. That's when augmented reality technology takes over, changing what a person sees through her smartphone camera. In an apartment-finder app, in another example, she could point her camera at buildings, and see on her screen a text box over a building with details on an available apartment.

In the case of Ice, an optimized image of the chosen ring or bracelet appears on the screen while the mobile phone camera is live and focused on a shopper's hand or wrist. The shopper lines up the piece of jewelry, then snaps a picture. Then she can adjust the picture, moving the ring by pinching, zooming or swiping. After pressing Done, she can see how a chosen ring would look on her finger, or a bracelet on her wrist. She can also share the picture with friends and family via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Ice spent about $50,000 to build the app with help from mobile app developer Maag Studios. The cost included optimizing images of the retailer's rings and bracelets, so that only the top and a bit of the curve would appear, making it possible to "fit" them on a shopper's finger or wrist. Next up, Gniwisch says, are pendants and earrings.

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

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