How is Augmented Reality technology shaping the shopping experience?

How is Augmented Reality technology shaping the shopping experience?

Eszter Farkas Blog, Retail

The term Augmented Reality (AR) has been floating around for years now, and when most of us think of it, we may visualise some installation with a person in the middle who is wearing a headset. In practice, and in this world of digital displays, AR is much closer to shoppers than it was ever before.

In the marketing world, AR solutions have been around for a while, typically in experiential campaigns where a good piece of technology with the right creative idea can generate the desired buzz. With millennials becoming a major influence in the consumer landscape, accounting for 27% of the population (about 2bn individuals), will we see AR as a response to the changing customer needs?

What does the AR experience look like in the store, at home or on your phone?

Many brands have already showcased AR enhanced in-store experiences, such as Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Mirror and Burberry’s fitting room-to-catwalk screens. In both cases, we can try on the clothing or make-up by just by posing in front of the reflective displays. Other brands allow their customers to take it home and enjoy in front of the computer, such was Adidas’ campaign with a line of trainers that holding up to the webcam on our laptop, reads an embedded code on the shoe. We then find ourselves in a virtual world and can play a game with the shoe being a console.

A functional and perhaps the best-known example is IKEA’s mobile app, PLACE, that helps us visualise the desired furniture in our own flat via an IOS device. All it takes is to download it from the App Store, enable the camera and off you go. The perfect way to picture a variety of furniture in our own living room, without the hassle of measurements and the disappointment when that bedside table turns out to be too short or too tall and we are having to return it to store. IKEA’s visualisation tool is a great example that utilises technology to respond to a gap that couldn’t be filled by neither the traditional store experience, nor ecommerce so far.

Generation Y and Z have ambiguous expectations, whereby we want tech solutions to make our customer journeys more efficient and comfortable (i.e. not to leave the house), yet we, millennials, value experience as well, so an in-store experience can be just as valuable. How does this translate into the balance between AR solutions in-store versus online? It is a fine line and we are already seeing several attempts on the high-street with eye-catching examples, like Zara’s pop up store in London combining online and offline experiences, an AR app included. The Zara app, store windows in-store ecommerce box, allows us to see models coming to life on our screens, wearing the selected items from the Zara range which we can immediately buy by clicking through. I am sure we will be seeing many more of these initiatives.

Tech companies to take part in the game

A major milestone was for Apple to enable ARKit (Apple’s developer platform for AR apps) on IOS 11 and above; and they recently announced the release of ARKit 2.0. Facebook is testing AR ads which will be a powerful new tool for advertisers. These future ads can include a “tap to try it on” option, opening a whole new world for brands to advertise their goods in a functional way, without having to download apps. Just think about trying on hats or glasses directly via Instagram and Facebook, how much more likely will you be to buy the product when the experience is so much more immersive?

We are certainly going to see more partnerships and joint ventures between brands and tech companies in what is going to be an exciting time in the transformation of the shopping experience.

Conclusion

Fashion brands and retailers must keep up with the tech trends, and AR is becoming more dominant both in-store and online. While some industries such as beauty and home are a better fit to implement attractive and functional solutions, others will also have to find clever and innovative ways to reach their customers and leverage the new forms of digital advertising. Otherwise, they will miss this train and millennial shoppers will certainly look elsewhere.