Summary: Augmented Reality is an enigmatic buzzword that has caught on with retailers seeking to enhance business, customer base & revenues. But not all of them understand the fine details of how it works or why it is the next big thing in retail. Read on to learn about the significance of augmented reality in retail.
A few years ago, Augmented Reality was just a pie-in-the-sky idea. It is a hot technology trend today, with an expected market of $61.4 billion by 2023.
AR is everywhere in healthcare, gaming, entertainment, digital marketing, education, and retail. Leading retail brands are consuming AR. They want to drive customer engagement, increase revenue, and improve brand awareness and loyalty. Also, over 32% of shoppers are regular users of AR, and 73% of smartphone AR users say they are highly content.
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How is Augmented Reality transforming the retail industry?
As compared to today’s retail environment, which is organized, has global outreach, and is easily accessible – the traditional retail markets have exhibited many loopholes, especially during the pandemic times.
- The traditional retail markets require physical interaction and need a costly setup.
- Unlike online retail stores, physical brick-and-mortar businesses have fixed hours.
- Products could run out of stock in the traditional retail environment.
- Traditional retail markets lack immersive experiences. Your chances of sales mainly depend on the selling skills of your salespeople.
- Traditional stores often lack customization.
- The language barrier is real in traditional retail. Unless you hire a salesperson who speaks multiple languages or a different salesperson for each customer demographic, selling to different customers can be challenging.
Here’s how augmented reality resolves this issue:
1. Boosting sales with customer engagement and retail experimentation
Immersive shopping experiences ensure customers keep buying from you, and retailers understand this well. Hence, they leverage the power of augmented Reality (AR) to offer shopping experiences that educate and spark curiosity.
Starbucks is a famous example of how retailers can use AR to spark curiosity. In 2017, they offered their first in-store AR experience at Asia’s first Starbucks Reserve Roastery. A new world appeared when you stood before the rotating cask and held your phone to the two-story copper vessel adorned with over 3000 hand-carved Chinese stamps. You could see the journey of a roasted bean to become a cup of coffee.
According to Emily Chang, Senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Starbucks, China:
It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka. It’s one thing to imagine a fully integrated in-store and digital experience which brings together the impressive scale of the Shanghai Roastery with the highest quality small-lot coffee beans. It’s quite another to watch the AR experience get built, and come to life.
2. Easing trials/tryouts to earn better ROI
Most people dread trials and tryouts because they’re tedious and time-consuming. However, AR makes them a lot easier by letting buyers try clothes, accessories, and furniture virtually before buying them. Here are a few examples:
- IKEA has launched a new app called IKEA Kreativ that lets you take an accurate 3D scan of your room and replace your existing furniture with IKEA products you would love to see.
- The optical prescription eyewear retail brand Lenskart scans users’ faces to place the digital reflection so that you can see how it looks on you before you buy it.
- Clothing brands like ASOS and Adidas use AR to offer virtual clothing try-on using which you can sense how a pair of shoes, jackets, or jeans will look on them before they buy it.
By applying AR for trials and tryouts, these brands have significantly increased their conversions and witnessed tremendous growth.
Virtual trials and tryouts also help retailers offer a contactless experience. It is a radical shift, especially after the COVID pandemic, when people were reluctant to visit and buy from retail stores.
3. Building loyalty by helping customers customize their products
Around 36% of consumers prefer buying customized products.–The Deloitte Consumer Research Report
While buying a product, customers want to feel like it truly belongs to them. That’s why they’re more inclined to buy it when you let them customize it. That’s why most retail brands offer product customization options to their customers, and AR plays a crucial role.
The Italian motor vehicle brand Piaggio uses AR to let customers personalize their Vespa scooters through an app before purchasing. You use the app to change the color, modify the style, add/remove accessories, etc.
Similarly, BMW leverages augmented Reality to let customers personalize their cars with different colors or styles from their tablets or phones.
This is a clever use of AR in retail as it helps retailers attract more customers, gather actionable insights about customer preferences, and foster brand loyalty by offering them the freedom to choose the product the way they want.
4. Breaking language barriers for global outreach
With over 4500 written languages worldwide, catering your products and services to everyone is challenging. Even if many people understand English, the content doesn’t have the same impact as when presented in their regional language.
AR is helping retailers break language barriers and cater digital experiences to customers in their native language. A famous example is Google Translate AR mode which lets customers see translated messages in over 40 foreign languages. Google has even invented AR Glasses that let you see subtitles when two people communicate in different languages.
Do you know what this means if you’re a retailer? Languages will no longer be a barrier to effectively selling to customers. Instead, you can sell your products even in some remote corner of the world, and you don’t speak their language.
5. Simplified social media content creation with shareable and traceable content
AR-powered filters and displays are fun and powerful organic marketing tools, allowing you to showcase what your product can do and sell faster. That’s what Ulta Beauty did with its Snapchat filters in January 2022. They released shoppable AR filters on Snapchat that users can swipe through and take photos with virtual makeup looks.
Users can share these photos with friends on Snapchat or social media platforms. They can even purchase the products directly in-app if they’re happy with their appearance.
These AR filters help Ulta Beauty generate brand awareness, educate customers, boost revenue, and gather essential customer insights.
Using AR filters is helpful, especially with Gen Z customers. According to data from Snapchat, users engage with Snapchat AR filters over 6 billion times a day, and most of these users are Gen Z people.
Gen Z is looking for different ways to engage and interact with products and brands they care about.
– Rajni Jacques, Global Head of Fashion and Beauty Partnerships at Snapchat
The research from Snapchat also shows that 93% of its users are interested in using AR for shopping. Hence, it would be best to give AR filters a shot.
6. Bringing down staffing expenses
Hiring and managing staff is one of the biggest challenges for retailers. According to Federal Reserve Economic Data, unfulfilled retail jobs rose from 750,000 before COVID to 1.1 Mn this July. Retailers had to staff up during the holiday season.
AR takes a lot of staffing worry off the retailer’s shoulders by assisting users with extensive information about products they want to buy and helping them with store navigation, thus reducing the need for human shop assistants.
Use cases for AR in retail
1. Space visualization and virtual tours
Imagine walking through a store or a property without paying a physical visit. It’s not a fantasy but the most radical use of augmented reality in retail. AR retail apps like Magicplan allow customers to see how their homes will look after renovation through an AR-enabled residential property design. They can even take a virtual walk or estimate the materials needed for renovation. Similarly, the Lowes AR app makes shopping easy and breezy by letting customers quickly navigate through brand stores, choose better routes, or find what they need.
2. Color matching
Finding matching colors and creating an optimal pallet for a room or outfit can be challenging for retailers. However, retailers like Dulux make it a lot easier by using augmented reality to let customers choose the new wall color for their homes.
The Prestige ColorPic app takes this two steps further by letting users pick a perfect wall color and order it from Amazon.
3. In-store displays
Some retailers also install in-store displays to offer shoppers interactive experiences through augmented Reality. Kate Spade, an American fashion design house, uses AR to display customizable bags using decorations and accessories.
Similarly, the cosmetic brand Charlotte Tilbury uses AR displays to showcase how shoppers’ faces will look with different makeup and lipstick colors.
4. AR fitting rooms
Some retailers also use augmented reality to ensure that customers no longer have to try clothes to see if they fit. They offer virtual fitting rooms where customers can see which clothes fit best without straining them. Here are two examples:
- The fashion retail chain Timberland has installed displays where visitors can see a mirror-like view of themselves and try on different clothes.
- The Chinese apparel brand Lily’s takes this up a notch by putting an AR display on the window of a store. Here, passengers can try on clothes as they wait for trains.
5. Large products shopping
Shopping for large products like furniture is no less than a gamble. You invest a lot of money, and if it doesn’t look good in your room, you will have nothing but regret. Retailers understand this well. Hence, they allow users to perceive how a piece of furniture will fit in their room. While Ikea is a famous example, many other furniture retailers offer equally exciting solutions.
The Homestyler interior design app lets customers create a complete interior design of their rooms. Another app, Decor Matters, uses AR and artificial intelligence to visualize how different room designs will look in users’ living spaces.
BMW also uses augmented reality to let users explore their car models, configure parts, take snapshots, etc.
6. Retail store merchandising
AR also plays a critical role in retail store merchandising by providing customers with additional information about products directly from their phones. Philips is a famous example of a brand that uses AR tags for marketing its electronics. Any customer willing to buy it can use their smartphone to read the AR layer of the tag and gather enough information about a product before approaching a store assistant.
Augmented Reality in retail: future and possible challenges
AR is already playing an important role in retail by letting you try out clothes, perceive furniture, and customize vehicles directly from your phone. Now, what does the future hold for AR in the retail industry? Here are a couple of things we can expect:
A. Enhanced online and in-store shopping experiences
AR is already redefining shopping by letting you virtually try on and try out clothes, accessories, and furniture from your phone. But this is not the end; we’ll see new and engaging shopping experiences.
Here are two innovations that AR can bring to in retail industry in the future:
- Use of holograms to ensure users view and feel the product closely before buying it.
- A grocery shopping assistant that guides you on when you need to buy groceries, replace the milk in your fridge, or if the bread you’re buying is nutritional.
B. Less product returns
Around 20% of online-bought products (and 9% bought in brick-and-mortar stores) are returned, resulting in lost millions of dollars. AR offers a shopping experience where users can interact with products, scale them, and visualize their intended environments before making a purchase. The approach leads to more satisfaction, avoids unpleasant experiences, makes customers feel reassured, and reduces the chances of product returns.
C. New doors for marketing strategies will open
The radical try-before-you-buy move in retail marketing is just the beginning. AR will open hundreds of other options to attract customers, like promotional flyers, QR codes on billboards, or even marketing collateral that beams holograms offering detailed information about a product.
Imagine a person walking through the park, opening their app, and visualizing your grocery store in front of you in 3D. They can pick items, add them to the cart, and pick the order when they want. If this is the comfort level you offer your customers, why wouldn’t they buy?
Similarly, a person watching a product on a billboard and scanning it to see an interactive ad in a 3D hologram will no longer be a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie but a reality.
AR could influence advertising by offering unique 3D interactions than plain 2D images or videos. Interested customers would be able to scale and visualize the product before making a purchase.
AR promises to open new opportunities in the form of virtual events. Retailers would be able to set up virtual product promotions and presentations to generate excitement and invite customers to these exclusive, holographic-based sales events.
However, to reach there, retailers need to work on many challenges. They need to keep the AR experience immersive while ensuring they don’t lose the authenticity and the experience customers want to feel while shopping for things. Even AR app developers must keep many essential aspects like advertising, localization, incentives and discounts, personal approach, interaction, discoverability, privacy, and user experience. Only then would it be possible to offer immersive AR experiences to customers.
How Net Solutions created a virtual mobile experience for retail stores via AR
One of our AR ventures was to provide a virtual mobile experience to customers within retail stores by assisting them in buying. The idea was to provide real-time information like description, price, product location, and alternatives as they moved inside the store as they entered the store.
Identifying the need
With supermarkets being so massive, maneuvering through can be a daunting task. Also, having a customer care executive to guide the customer is impossible due to enormous walk-ins. With numerous products on display, they may get easily distracted and buy what is not needed. When that is the case, creating a virtual shopping experience via a mobile device would be more convenient and rewarding.
We built a Retail AR app, which was not only interactive but also empowered customers to find what they were seeking. In other words, it assisted them in making an informed choice and helped retailers position their products well.
We included the following features were into the app:
- Guiding the customer to a specific department.
- Referring the customer to a recommended product.
- Empowering store owners to add routes for customers searching for a department or a relevant product.
We built the Retail AR app using the Swift language, which we earlier employed in the Apple ARKit iOS framework for marking the positions of products and for creating navigation path arrows.
A. The virtual and real-world convergence in the retail environment
Our AR retail app-enabled retailers to encourage prospective and existing customers to shop in-store rather than online. Further, through this virtual and real-world convergence, retailers could track and notify their customers of any deals – current or upcoming.
For example, let them know that the cereal they were looking for is now available, that there is a special offer on dairy products four aisles away, and guide them step-by-step to the exact aisle where they can pick the item.
B. Engaging customers in real-time
Through this app, retailers can connect with customers in real-time by offering them what they are looking for, with the correct information and tools to help them make an informed decision. For example, mapping the navigation to the products customers are looking for and notifying the customer of deals and special offers.
C. Significant increase in revenue
Another benefit of the app is that with personalization and customer empowerment, retailers could see a marked shift in revenue, on an upswing. By tapping customers’ needs and investing in gen-next technology (AR), customer engagement would be optimal and motivated to purchase more.
D. Saves time
With the AR retail app, customers can locate the products and departments seamlessly, saving them time and energy and enabling them to make quick buying decisions. Also, retailers would end up having more and more repeat customers since they like shopping at a convenient, fast, and hassle-free outlet.
E. Cost reduction
Our retail AR app, which enables customers to make a quick buy, also benefits retailers in another aspect. There is a significantly lesser workforce required, as the app takes precedence.
Customers don’t have to depend on staff members, and the AR app acts as a personal assistant. The app directs them to the products they are looking for, offering other alternatives if necessary and alerting them of special offers in-house. Thus, this technology leads to a significant cost reduction in-store, a win-win for the retailer.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many retailers are using Augmented Reality?
According to a report from MarketingDive, Only 1% of retailers are using augmented Reality, including brands like IKEA, Starbucks, Amazon, etc. The reason behind such a low number is that around 51% of brands feel that they’re not prepared to integrate AR into retail.
What is AR-powered shopping?
AR-powered shopping is augmented reality’s function in retail that lets users virtually try on and test products before buying them. A famous example is fashion retailers that allow users to virtually try clothes and fashion accessories or IKEA, which lets them perceive the furniture they want to buy in their rooms.
Is Augmented Reality the future of shopping?
A Deloitte study shows that around 94% of customers are expected to use AR for shopping the same way they did in 2021. Also, 32% of shoppers prefer AR for shopping. Hence, it is safe to say that augmented Reality is the future of shopping.
Why do retailers use Augmented Reality?
Companies and entrepreneurs can use live streaming technology to stay in touch with their followers and friends in real-time, providing exclusive content instead of annoying advertisements. Live video streams can elevate a brand’s inbound marketing to new heights.