Augmented Reality is touted as one of the biggest tech trends for retail, with experts tipping it could just offer bricks and mortar the edge they need to thrive in an e-commerce era.
Its potential is considered so important, in 2016 most speakers at the US National Retail Federation Conference in New York singled it out as “the hottest innovation in the industry”.
But what is AR, and how can it be used to improve the in-store experience?
The definition of AR
The term Augmented Reality (AR) is often interchanged with Virtual Reality but the two offer far different experiences. In the case of AR, digital elements can be added to a real-world image, often by using something as simple as the camera on a smartphone.
Virtual reality (VR) on the other hand, enables a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world.
It’s this interplay between the real and the digital that offers the greatest benefits for physical retail when it comes to AR.
What AR is used for
Vision Critical recently explained: “AR enables retailers to add computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video or graphics to the real-world environment. (In contrast, virtual reality replaces the real-world environment with a simulated one.)”
That means it offers a wealth of potential when it comes to showcasing simulated products in real scenarios, so a retailer can demonstrate their look or use, while other potential uses of augmented reality include virtual fitting rooms, interactive window displays and AR-assisted store navigation.
As the technology finds its way into the mainstream, experts are tipping the market will be valued at revenue of $73 billion by 2023 and already some retailers are dipping their toe in the AR waters.
Here are just some of the ways it’s being used…
A whole new experience – Lego London
In London recently an entire Lego retail outlet was created using AR, as Retail Wire explains:
“The only thing in ‘The Missing Piece’ pop-up in London’s Soho district was a Snapcode, a QR code for Snapchat, displayed on a plinth. Scanning the Snapcode transported the shopper via their smartphone screens into an augmented-reality (AR) fashion boutique.
“Visitors were then able to explore the AR space that featured a DJ booth, arcade machines and bouncer, all made of Lego. Lego mannequins showcased the streetwear range that could be bought online through an integrated ‘Shop Now’ feature on Snapchat.”
Interactive window displays – Zara
In April last year fashion retailer Zara officially announced it would implement an augmented reality experience at seven US outlets in a bid to “engage consumers in an entirely new way”.
As Refinery 29 explains, the experience sees users download an app that allows shoppers to point their smart phone at an otherwise empty shop window. Users then see virtual models brought to life for around 12 seconds.
“All looks shown can then be ordered directly at the touch of a button or bought locally in the store.”
Virtual browsing – Saks Fifth Avenue
US retailer Saks Fifth Avenue recently introduced augmented reality “magic mirrors” that allow customers to try products virtually.
Known as virtual browsing, it allows customers to experiment with a range of new looks, without actually altering their current physical appearance.
“Virtual browsing is more convenient than physically trying on makeup and dealing with unsanitary samples or having multiple colours smudge,” IoT For All notes.
“Customers can even experiment and change their hair colour without the long-term commitment. Such experimentation makes it easy for shoppers to explore a variety of options and have their experience be not only comfortable but also enjoyable and entertaining.”
Unlimited inventory – Kate Spade
A major benefit of AR is that it allows customers to engage with unlimited inventory without the retailer being required to hold that item in stock.
IoT For All explains handbag retailer Kate Spade is among the retailers embracing this power. They utilise AR to help guide customers through a more personalised experience where they create their own bags.
“Kate Spade’s visitors can explore thousands of options, not all of which may be available in-store. By reducing the pain points of product exploration, retailers can help customers sift through a much greater variety of products while ensuring that they’re more emotionally engaged with the brands that touch them.”
A personalised experience – IKEA
A major friction that customers are required to overcome in the furniture purchasing journey is accurately envisaging the look and dimensions of an item within their home.
Retailer IKEA is removing that friction with AR. The retailer has introduced an app, known as IKEA Place, which “lets you virtually ‘place’ furnishings in your space”.
“From sofas and lamps, to rugs and tables, all of the products in IKEA Place are 3D and true to scale so you can make sure it’s just the right size, design and functionality for your room,” IKEA says.
The final word
In many ways AR is just in its infancy in the retail sector, with brands only starting to explore its potential. If they can harness its power while improving the customer experience, they stand a very good chance of creating an entirely new and compelling reason for consumers to enter a store.