Augmented Reality and Retail – a match made in the digital world (Virtual Shopping)
Written by
Anand Ethiraj

Solomon is a gadget lover. He is considering buying a new smart TV for his living room. He happened to be in a mall and casually walked into the electronics section and ended up at the Televisions aisle. He likes the looks of a TV on display. He points his smartphone to that TV and in an instant, accesses all the available digital information on that TV – specs, product videos, customer reviews. He decides to go for it. Well, what the retailer did was to convert a shopper into a buyer. What helped the retailer clinch the deal is the integration of Augmented Reality into the in-store experience to take that experience to a whole new level. By placing content directly in front of a potential consumer – in a more easy, personalized and engaging way – the retailer influenced a purchase decision. It is happening, and it is now!

The all pervasiveness of digital technologies has changed every industry and every walk of life. While that’s a given, the ability to gauge how an emerging technology is going to impact your business and make the transition quickly is a deal maker.

Today, the two trends that are central to Retail are ‘convenience’ and ‘customer engagement.’ Using digital technologies intelligently, progressive enterprises are focusing on innovating on both these aspects in order to convert shoppers into buyers. And the one technology that is literally pushing the boundaries of innovation in Retail is Augmented Reality (AR).

AR is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world. It is commonly implemented using a person’s phone camera. The technology is well suited to retail as it can be used on a mobile device without the need for a headset.

Though Augmented and Virtual Reality are not new, it is their innovative application by Retailers and Brands that is opening new frontiers in creating truly immersive shopping experiences that bridge the gap between digital and real. According to a study by Citibank, AR driven commerce is expected to account for 25% of all online retailing by 2035.

Bring the store to the phone

AR allows retailers to reach potential customers in any geography or time zone, without having their physical store there. For example, Alibaba’s Buy+ brings the entire virtual mall directly to consumers’ phones. Shoppers can browse through various stores and make purchases. It gives a virtual platform for sellers without a physical store, but also provides a simulated in-store experience for retailers who may not have a store in a particular market.

Make it real, without the physical

Take the above experience of buying a TV. Take it one step forward. This time Solomon is at home browsing through the virtual store. He chooses a TV and checks how it looks in his living room – not wholly real, but a near realistic experience. Now imagine this experience across products and brands. L’Oreal’s MakeupGenius app allows customers to see how different makeup products will look on them before buying. The Ikea Place app allows shoppers to place virtual 3D versions of furniture in their homes to see how they would look.

Elevating the in-store experience

While AR brings the feel of in-store to online shopping, it also offers new possibilities to enhance the physical, in-store experience. Makers’ Experience by Nike is helping avid runners to create their own custom shoe design, and have it made for them then and there.

Deloitte’s Retail Trends for 2018 talks about AR as central to the transformation of retail – reimagine the store, elevating the experience and transforming the business. The key advantages of AR in Retail include:

  • Increasing store visits
  • Improving conversion
  • Increasing loyalty
  • Reducing returns
  • Optimizing human resources
  • Gathering insights into customers’ purchase behaviours

What’s your take on this?

Image source: Cisco