Marxent Labs’ App Transforms Print Catalogs Into eCommerce Experience

Marxent Labs, the Detroit Venture Partners-backed startup developing augmented reality technology, has launched a new app with Ballard Designs that allows consumers to use their smartphones to transform print catalogs into an e-commerce shopping experience.

By using image recognition technology, the new app enables expanded product details and reviews, social sharing, and “tap-to-buy” shopping. The app, which is called Ballard+, works with Ballard Designs’ winter 2012 catalog.

The collaboration with Ballard Designs is part of a larger deal that Marxent Labs has with Cornerstone Brands, the catalog division of the Home Shopping Network. Marxent Labs’ co-founder and CEO, Beck Besecker, says that even though online shopping continues to grow in popularity, print catalogs still drive purchasing decisions.

“Although retailers have e-commerce sites, it’s hard to communicate brands online,” he says. “With a catalog, you’re telling a story. Brand immersion happens, which is hard to do with e-commerce.”

Consumers using the Ballard+ app can hold their smartphone’s camera over any page in the catalog. A box appears around each item in the viewfinder; users can tap the screen to look at the expanded product information. They can then add the product to their cart and keep shopping or check out. Essentially, Besecker explains, the app allows consumers to use a catalog like a website. “We’re the first company to do anything of this magnitude,” he adds.

Bryon Colby, senior vice president of e-commerce at Cornerstone Brands, reached out to Marxent Labs after seeing its work on the X-ray app, an augmented reality project with the Moosejaw clothing store. Colby says it’s his mission to constantly evolve the print catalog experience, and Marxent’s visual platform really resonated.

“Print catalogs are very effective,” he notes. “We’re looking not to replace them, but to bring in the digital benefits of being able to share, read reviews, and see multiple images.”

Perhaps even more valuable to Cornerstone Brands is the value of the data the Ballard+ app can collect. Colby says the company can see which items app users are responding to. “A lot of technology out there involves leading the customer,” he adds. “With this, we’re taking things they know and enhancing it. Unlike, for example, QR codes, it’s easy. The adoption rate should be very high.”

Cornerstone Brands distributes tens of millions of catalogs across seven brands annually, Colby says. Right now, the Ballard+ app is only available for iPads and iPhones, but Marxent anticipates developing an Android version if all goes well.

The company, which is co-headquartered in Detroit and Dayton, OH, has 13 employees. Besecker says the next stage for Marxent Labs is creating a mobile wallet experience with a “long list” of features. “When you see it in action, your jaw will drop,” he promises.

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