When it comes to new technology, it can be easy to assume that new developments are either just a fad that’s sure to fizzle or the very thing that shapes the future of retail. Mobile devices and social media are only two examples that are recent enough to remember, but even the Internet itself is a prime example of how technology can literally change the world of retail.
Given path to purchase changes and the way customers are differentiating the way they experience brands between the physical and digital world, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the next wave of change is taking the form of AR, or augmented reality.
Although the technology has been developing for some time now, you may be wondering “what is augmented reality?” It could be argued that AR is a type of virtual reality (VR) because of the way it alters the way the viewer perceives the reality around them, however, they’re quite different in one major respect: VR immerses the viewer in a completely fabricated reality, while AR integrates digital and virtual by overlaying images onto the actual real world.
The concept of AR has been around for some time, bouncing around in sci-fi stories among other speculative fictions (see the movie Minority Report, for instance) before early forms finally developed in the early and mid ’90s, mostly for the military, in the form of BARS (battlefield augmented reality systems) and HUDs (heads-up displays). Now, there’s 60 million consumers using AR in some way, a number that’s expected to skyrocket to 200 million in just two years. In today’s article, we’ll discuss where this tech is working for business today and how augmented reality is changing the way we shop.
How It’s Being Used
When discussing AR shopping experiences, it can be easy to confuse them with VR shopping experiences like the Lowe’s HoloRoom. This is because in many ways, VR and AR shopping rely on the same concepts with similar execution. Just remember: AR is drafting the virtual world into the real one. AR gives your brand the opportunity to contextualize your product in a meaningful way by literally letting the customer see your product in action, in a real space, even without the product being there.
It applies to all sorts of products too, not limited at all to the ways that may seem most obvious (such as gaming) or even the examples we’ll present in a moment. Take a look at these statistics from MavenEcommerce about the products people are most interested in purchasing with the help of AR:
- Virtual dressing room: 88%
- Shoe sampling: 87%
- Virtual furniture sampling: 86%
- Interactive vehicle manual: 75%
The point of AR is to make your brand seamlessly accessible, and brands that are already taking advantage of augmented reality solutions are seeing the returns. Take the AR platform Aurasma, which helped AMC Theaters see a 75% CTR lift and helped Office Depot and One Direction’s anti-bullying campaign see a 300% lift in mobile use. It even boosted the sales of Star Wars merchandise by 25% at Disney’s Star Wars Weekends at its Hollywood resort. (This success is undoubtedly connected to Elizabeth Arden’s choice to use the platform for its latest Taylor Swift fragrance.) This sort of success is precisely what drives the success of AR platforms like these:
- What it does: Exemplifies personal beauty and skincare options through visual recognition, including the elimination of blemishes, anti-aging, hair cut and color, and makeup testing.
- Brands using it: Sephora, L’Oreal, Allergan, Covergirl
- What it does: Bridges the gap between print and virtual spaces by making client images and documents what “opens” the AR experience, which can include anything from video to the ability to begin a purchase order.
- Brands using it: Annheuser-Busch, Elle, General Mills, Honda, BMW, Coca Cola
- What it does: Makes almost anything the visual trigger to start an AR experience, from interactive promotions (e.g., kiosks that allowed guests to take screenshots with movie characters) to digital extras (cartoons walking around your table) and triggering in-store offers and free gifts.
- Brands using it: Disney, NBC Universal, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Office Depot, Sundance Film Fest
- What it does: Furniture sampling that allows customers to preview pieces in their home, complete with the ability to purchase.
- Brands using it: Pier 1 Imports, Crate & Barrel’s CB2, IKEA, Capitol Lighting
What This Means for How We Shop
The shift to e-commerce in general and m-commerce specifically are indicative of the way consumers want to interact with brands, but perhaps not in the way you think. Rather than a total shift to e-commerce, experts have begun to believe that neither a completely digital or physical retail position will be the strongest, and may even come out as market leaders beginning this year.
Still others are predicting that more brands will roll out apps to craft the perfectly individualized and immersive experience. Augmented reality is perfectly suited to enable and expand this new line of experiences, and it will change when and how customers interact with physical, brick-and-mortar locations.
This lies with the way AR brings products to life, either in the store environment or wherever the customer is, giving them a way to engage with your products before making a purchase. In our examples above, you can see the ways in which AR allows consumers to find exactly what they’re looking for, whether it’s trying on clothes, testing out makeup colors, or turning a business card or coupon into a way to directly order dinner, all of which close the gap between physical and digital. Developing your own AR space will help digitize your stock, providing the customer with further information about location inventory at a highly customizable level, while making purchases available in-app for products not available in their desired locations, letting them get what they want when they want it while saving you a lost sale. All of this serves to boost customer trust in your brand and your solutions. Furthermore, gathering information from the way customers interact with your platform will also lead to much more significant levels of segmentation and personalization.
It may also revolutionize methods of shopping that are otherwise beginning to die. Take shopping in malls, for example. More than 60% of consumers visit stores in a mall for two reasons: social trips with friends and family (21%) and trying products out (39%). While the “death” of malls has been overrated, the sales there are certainly eroding, and the same-tenant sales growth for storefronts in malls over the next three years (2016 to 2019) has been cut in half, putting non-anchor store locations at less than 95% occupancy as even anchor stores begin closing locations to save their bottom line. AR can help these stores close the gap between physical and digital, better serving customers and drawing more foot traffic.
Now that you understand how augmented reality is changing the way shoppers behave, you can begin to consider whether or not AR is a good choice for your brand. If this is a valuable tool that your customers want to use to interact with your brand, then you ought to be exploring your options to find the right platform to provide an app that fits your company’s budget. While not every development is right for every brand, you ought to be keeping tabs on this trend so your company doesn’t get left in the past.