The retail industry is constantly growing and changing. From the way consumers shop to the way companies sell, we see improvements and innovations that arise each year. At the turn of the century, technology became a large contributor to the success of retail businesses and continues to be to this day. In physical locations and online, technology has helped retailers be successful in sales, marketing, distribution, and more.
However, with technological advances being so common across a number of industries, companies strive to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Recently, retailers have focused their efforts on providing a unique customer experience to their audience. While there are a number of tactics to do so, augmented reality has been one that has shown quite a bit of success even in its early years within retail. Keep reading to find out how greatly augmented reality has impacted, and will continue to impact the retail industry.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR), in simple terms, is the overlay of computer-generated content onto an individual’s real-world perception. It allows for an interactive experience between the content simulated and the current reality a user is experiencing. AR is typically discussed in combination with virtual reality (VR), gaming, and entertainment.
While the technology got its start in the media industry, it has proven its success and limitless abilities in a range of others. Since its development, AR has made its mark in sports, print media, the automotive industry, and most recently, retail. Within the last several years, we began to see AR emerge into retail and we are still yet to see its limits.
Brick and mortar retailers and startups are continuing to expand their businesses onto the internet. Doing so has allowed them to drive more sales and at the very least, raise brand awareness. However, retailers still struggle with the brand uniqueness in eCommerce as well. Thankfully, AR has shown its unique capabilities for eCommerce retailers on numerous occasions and can help to drive more success.
The combination of AR in eCommerce creates an experience like no other. With technology, customers are able to view simulations of products without ever going to the store. Target, for example, launched an AR feature on its website and app to allow customers to view furniture and decor pieces in their own homes. This feature is extremely helpful in the home decor and furniture industry because you need to try the product in your home before knowing that you’ll want it.
However, when shopping in-store, you are forced to buy it, bring it home, and possibly return it, or not buy it at all. Now with AR technology, that entire process is eliminated for the customer and it can lower any lost profit from returns in-store. Similarly, Warby Parker took advantage of AR’s capabilities and implemented it into their app. Customers can now take a picture of themselves, upload it to the app, then virtually try on a vast array of glasses from the comfort of their own home.
Trying on glasses can be a long process and a single store isn’t guaranteed to have Warby Parker’s entire stock of inventory. However, the app gives you access to a broader range of products to give you more options and a more comfortable experience from home.
While AR in eCommerce can be used to enhance your customer experience at home, it has still shown its capabilities in taking your in-store experience to the next level as well. Similarly to eCommerce, in-store retailers use AR to help customers try on products. We see this in one of the top beauty stores in the world, Sephora.
Instead of using a 2D photo-based AR system similar to that used in the Warby Parker app, the company opted for developing the world’s first photo-realistic 3D mirror after 3 years of research. Essentially, the mirror tracks the location of each of the customer’s facial features and applies the desired product directly on the video feed coming from the mirror’s camera.
This gives customers the opportunity to “try on” hundreds of eyeshadows without having to worry about skin irritation or staining from repeatedly applying them in real life. This, of course, elevates the in-store experience to a level that other beauty stores have yet to reach.
A technology like the photo-realistic mirror could open up an incredible amount of opportunity in the future for clothing and apparel retailers. These mirrors would take away the hassle of trying on clothes in-store, and instead, customers can view the simulation of clothing through the mirrors and decide on purchasing.
Although there’s not enough data to confirm just yet, there’s the possibility that this could help to better retailer’s loss prevention programs and eliminate theft from dressing rooms. Clothing and apparel stores, like Neiman Marcus, Finishline, and Uniqlo, have started to take steps towards implementing a similar technology, the Memory Mirror, into their stores as well.
This mirror uses a combination of AR, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) to act as a personal assistant in the dressing room. Essentially, it will allow you to change the color of a garment without taking it off, save and share snapshots of the garment, and make recommendations based on style and preference.
While augmented reality has changed how we experience eCommerce and in-store shopping, it also changes the way that companies sell their brand and products to us. A popular trend in the implementation of AR into marketing involves gamification. This means that game-style elements are being included in industries and contexts outside of the gaming world — like marketing.
An example of this is seen in the scotch distillery company Glenlivet’s sale of its product, Glenlivet Code. On the packaging of the product, the company added a QR code to scan. Once scanned with your device, the code opens up a hologram of a popular distiller, Alan Winchester, and he guides you through a tasting of the product.
While in this case, the customer has already made a purchase of their product, they can develop a deeper understanding of why this product was worth purchasing and a little guidance into buying their products in the future. Essentially, the company is using the technology to remarket Glenlivet Code after purchase and encourage the purchase of other products in the future.
Another company, Yorkshire Tea, used a marketing campaign in a magazine to allow customers to access an AR simulation stressing the importance of environmental sustainability. By scanning the QR in the magazine, you can play a game planting trees virtually.
Not only does this raise brand awareness for Yorkshire Tea, but it also advertises its mission to plant 1 million trees in the UK and Kenya. As you can see, there are a number of ways you can use augmented reality within marketing given that it’s undoubtedly improving the customer experience.
Final Words on AR
Augmented reality is still a growing technology. Its implementation into the world of retail is relatively new and for that reason, creates so much room for opportunity. We have seen a range of retailers utilize AR in eCommerce, in-store shopping, and marketing to expand each customer’s experience. So, as a consumer, continue to be on the lookout for AR implementation in your shopping trips.
Comment below and let us know your experiences and how you think AR will change and evolve in the years to come.