For the next four days, shoppers who go to the Target store in Roseville can have a snowball fight with Zoomer the dinosaur while standing next to a wall of light-up Santas. And they can watch a snowman roasting a marshmallow in an igloo while wandering down a sporting goods aisle.
Virtually, that is.
Target Corp. has teamed up with Google Inc. to turn four stores nationwide, including the one in Roseville, into 3-D winter playgrounds. With the help of special tablets, shoppers can walk around the store and see a made-up world come to life.
But if shoppers don’t live near those stores, they can still get a piece of the action by playing winter-themed games on Target’s mobile website through the end of the month. In “Bullseye’s Playground,” players can choose from six games such as dodging trees while sledding down a hill or reeling in various creatures while ice fishing.
It’s the sort of thing you can imagine kids doing while Mom or Dad finish up their holiday shopping, said Eddie Baeb, a Target spokesman. It’s not unlike the eye-catching holiday window displays at Macy’s, he added.
“It gives them something fun to do during the holidays and creates a one-of-a-kind experience at Target,” he said.
But it’s not just about the kicks. As with most experiments, there’s a real-world business strategy behind it.
These days, online shopping can often be more fun and engaging than going to a store, said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant with Newmarketbuilders.
“But there’s this ongoing realization that brick-and-mortar locations can offer a killer advantage over online if they leverage those locations to do innovative things,” she said. “They’ve got to find ways to make the in-store experience as engaging — or more engaging — than the online experience.”
Many retailers have been trying to tap into the power of the smartphone to win over customers. Target has made strides with its digital coupon app, Cartwheel.
Down the road, Baeb said, you might see customers hold up their phones to a product to see 3-D content about it. Or perhaps customers can unlock a special performance by Taylor Swift on their phone while perusing the music department.
“Merging the connection between digital and stores is where we see the future,” he said.
Target’s earlier games
This isn’t Target’s first foray into gaming. Last year, the Minneapolis-based retailer rolled out a mobile game called the Snack Bowl that was tied to the Super Bowl. In that game, players threw branded snacks such as Ritz crackers, M&M’s and DiGiorno frozen pizzas at party guests as they moved around a living room.
In the current collaboration, Google sought out Target as a partner earlier this year. Google’s Art, Copy & Code program has been looking for ways to use its emerging technology to bolster brands, said Vikram Tank, a Google marketing manager. Other partners have included Nike, Lionsgate and Burberry.
“For retailers, mobile can be a big ally in the store. So we wanted to show what these things can do,” Tank said, referring to Google’s new Project Tango tablets that have 3-D mapping capabilities and can sense where users are.
The 3-D experience will be available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at the Roseville store and at a Target store in Dallas. It was featured last week in stores in Chicago and the San Francisco area and was so popular that there was sometimes a waiting list.
It takes about 10 minutes to walk through the experience. “Brand ambassadors” are on hand to help guide users through the section of the store where the virtual game is played.
The more widely available games, available on mobile devices at Target.com/play, launched last week. For every game played, Target will donate $1 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, up to $1 million.
“It’s off to a good start,” Baeb said.
While users can play the games from anywhere, there are extra incentives for shoppers — or their children — to play them inside of Target. In several spots around the store marked by a bull’s-eye sticker on the floor and a sign above it, customers can input a code to unlock new features. For example, in the sled aisle, customers can get a code to get a green sled for Bullseye instead of a red one in one of the games.
And, as you might expect, there are some tie-ins with hot holiday toy brands such as Hot Wheels, Monster High Draculaura, and Zoomer, the robotic dinosaur.