Augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world is taking off in the retail sector. As one of the primary real-world test beds, retail property owners are beginning to realize the tremendous potential AR has to transform the shopping experience.
While virtual reality requires specialized electronic equipment like a headset or goggles to simulate a completely alternate visual environment, augmented reality uses a smartphone or tablet to merge digital components with real-life objects — in a way that they enhance one another but are still obviously distinct. An example of AR taking off is the Pokemon Go craze which swept the world last year and saw a host of retailers requesting Pokéstops as a new way to connect with consumers.
Usage is expected to continue to grow and expand: According to the Harvard Business Review, investments in AR and VR by the retail industry could reach $30 billion by 2020.
Augmented reality in action
Some brands have been quick to adopt the new technology – and not just in store. Sephora’s Virtual Artist app uses augmented reality to allow consumers to apply makeup and learn new tips without having to go to a store.
Lowe’s is launching an AR app that allows shoppers to use their phones for virtual store directions. The app uses Google’s indoor-mapping technology, called Tango, to overlay a yellow line down the aisles that guides people to the exact location of each item on their shopping list. Getting lost in a sea of appliances, paint and patio furniture will soon be a thing of the past.
Home goods retailers are rolling out platforms that use AR to virtually place an item like a couch or lamp in a shopper’s home so they can visualize what the piece would look like. Pottery Barn will leverage Google’s Tango technology for its forthcoming 3D Room View app, which will let a user virtually furnish any room of their house with any Pottery Barn product they choose. Similarly, IKEA has announced a collaboration with Apple on an app that lets shoppers virtually try many different products, styles, and colors in real-life settings.
Home goods are not the only retail segments adapting AR technology to increase convenience and personalization for their consumers.
Grocery retailers, for example, are exploring AR as a resource to uniquely determine the preferences of increasingly diverse shoppers. As AR glasses and tools become less expensive and more widely available, supermarkets may use them to virtually remove products from a shopper’s view so that they can only see items on the shelf that they are looking for. So, if a shopper is searching for gluten-free crackers, they can be highlighted in the aisle while other, non-gluten free products fade out of vision. Or, if someone is looking to try a new recipe, AR can guide them to quickly and easily find all of the ingredients needed. It might even suggest a wine that would pair well with the recipe.
Benefitting both the customer and retailer
While many retailers have both online and offline marketplaces, they tend to have different appeals. AR brings some of the best aspects of online shopping to physical stores – namely, better communication, more personalization and deeper engagement.
The demand for convenience and customization continues to grow and augmented reality couldn’t come at a better time for retailers. Many brands are struggling against the myriad of growing purely online retailers. AR technology offers brick-and-mortar stores a competitive advantage by allowing them to blend digital and physical shopping to create a unique experience. By enriching the interactions that customers have with physical products, brands can potentially boost sales and brand loyalty.
One other big advantage for retailers using AR is the opportunity to collect data on the consumers interacting with their brand in higher detail, as these platforms involve a significant degree of access to personal information. For consumers, it could mean a better shopping experience with their favorite brands. As technology advances and AR becomes more powerful, there will likely continue to be an even higher level of personalization of the in-store experience.
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