A common SMB action that’s defined the past year is scrambling to find and implement digital tools to counterbalance the detriments of physical-world lockdowns. Without marginalizing the pain endured by brick & mortar businesses, one silver lining (for what it’s worth) will be battle-tested digital savvy.

Even 10 months into various stages of lockdown, we continue to see new ways that digital tools can help SMBs. There are of course the usual suspects like ramping up eCommerce capabilities, but we’re talking here about less-obvious ways SMBs can engage with their sheltered and distanced customers.

The latest comes from Uptown Network, which just launched a digital gift-giving format for restaurants. Working with digital agency Rock Paper Reality, it offers restaurants a way to offer gift cards to their customers that feature AR-enabled opening experiences to infuses a dash of interactivity.

Specifically, restaurant customers scan a code from restaurant signage or marketing materials. That lets them browse menus and choose specific dishes or items to gift, then send a personalized message. The recipient can then open the gift through an interactive experience (see example below).

This has a few advantages. For one, it can be delivered digitally so the recipient gets it right away, rather than a physical card by mail. More importantly, the experience itself takes away the impersonal elements of digital gift cards today — such as an Amazon gift card that lands in your inbox.

The main point of value is that gift cards can be a way for restaurants to alleviate cash flow shortages as both virus upticks and cold weather limit their service options. Selling future meals (the technical accounting term for gift cards), is one way to do that. And the AR opening experience differentiates it.

To make back-end integration easier, AR gifting can be integrated with a business’s POS system. This injects some optionality for restaurants as the choices they offer to gift-givers can align with their existing channels. That could be immediate delivery, gift cards, or whatever they already offer.

Uptown Network is launching the program under its “Bring Your Own Menu” (BYOM) platform. This equips restaurants with QR-code activated digital menus, meaning that it has a digital foundation and distribution network in place for AR gifting. Two million people have used BYOM since its May launch.

Circling back to the concept of using creative and emerging technologies to help local businesses, AR continues to find its ways on that list. As we examined recently, Niantic offers local businesses a way to boost their foot traffic by establishing themselves as in-game waypoints in Pokémon Go.

Just as necessity is the mother of invention, we’ll continue to see creative applications of emerging tech to help SMBs through rough times. Once those SMBs develop a taste and competency around new digital tools, they’ll gain skills that give them a competitive edge in the Post-Covid world.

We’ll keep our radar up for more examples.

Tech Vision is Localogy’s series that spotlights emerging tech. Running semi-weekly, it reports on new technologies that Localogy analysts track, including strategic implications for local commerce. See the full series here.

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