August 2, 2018

Augmented Reality And The Future Of Shopping

Although augmented reality is already becoming part of our day to day lives, we often only interact with this kind of technology for entertainment purposes -think Pokemon GO (RIP) and Snapchat (you’re next). So how can augmented reality be used more commercially, to facilitate sales and pull consumer data?

Companies such as Zara, IKEA, and Converse are already beginning to leverage the power of AR technology through the creation of shopping apps. If augmented reality does become more integrated into retail  businesses, how will this impact the way we shop?

How Can Augmented Reality Facilitate Business?

In the last couple of years, we have seen a rise in the intelligent consumer; consumers who do their research before a purchase. This has partially been impacted by sites like Amazon which allow customers to leave reviews on products, as well as the increase in influencers who explain the benefits of products and how to use them.

This means that now 81 per cent of consumers research a product thoroughly before they make a purchase. Augmented reality apps can be used to facilitate this purchase process. Comparison apps, such as the one created by IBM, allow consumers to hold their phone up to a product and review all the relevant information before they buy. When the consumer downloads the app, they can create a profile which will help create customised content for that user. The app will then produce personalised content when the user hold their device up to a product, such as available coupons or warnings about allergy risks. Customers will also be able to see online reviews for the products which means that:

“The same experience people expect online is available in the store,” Amnon Rebak, IBM Research. (Cnet)

A second way in which augmented reality apps can expedite the purchase process, is allowing consumers to “try before they buy”. For example, earlier this year IKEA launched an app; IKEA Place, which depicts certain household items as they would look in the consumer’s home. Using the camera function, the app would superimpose the desired item into the screen.

The App uses an ARKIT/ARCore framework capability to show an item that will be true to scale, which also helps consumers to avoid buying something that would not fit in their home. The app allows consumers to “try before they buy” over 2200 different items including furniture and different colours of paint for their walls. This app therefore encourages the consumer to buy because they can visualise the product in their home and test whether the item fits their home’s aesthetic.

“It could eventually be that you put in contact lenses and you don’t need to look at a phone anymore. We’re really right at the beginning of the big bang with AR and understanding just how it can make everyday life better for people.” Michael Valdsgaard, Leader of Digital Transformation, inter IKEA systems B.V (IKEA)

Augmented reality contact lenses may sound a little too “Black Mirror”” for the time being, however IKEA Place fits the Deloitte predicted trend: “retailtainment”. Consumers no longer just shop, they want an experience. IKEA Place makes shopping more interactive and entertaining. With customer experience being one of the most important parts of the purchase decision making process, and with AR being named as one of the top trends of 2018, perhaps its time that your business integrated it into its wider digital marketing strategy.

What Are The Limitations Of AR Within Retail?

Although the rapidly declining high street shows that consumers prefer to shop online than in brick and mortar stores, research shows that online shopping often doesn’t reach the purchase stage when conducted on a mobile. This is because screens on these type of devices are small, so they are less suited to online shopping than laptops and tablets.

At the moment augmented reality apps are designed to be used on a smartphone. While this is less of an issue for augmented reality shopping apps like IBM’s, which uses it as a way for consumers to receive additional information about products, this poses an issue for the “try before you buy” AR shopping apps like IKEA’s. Whilst consumers are more likely to purchase an item if they can see it in their home – if they are ultimately going to abandon the cart before purchase, does the app really have any practical use?

Perhaps apps using augmented reality need to consider how to make shopping more adaptable for a smaller screen, or perhaps work out a way in which to link the app onto laptops and tablets through a smartphone.

Conclusion

There’s no denying it, augmented reality has already started to infiltrate daily life and is rapidly beginning to have more practical applications than its current use within entertainment. However, most apps still are in their beta phases and there are still issues of practicality surrounding the use of this technology. Similar to the introduction of AI and chatbots, augmented reality needs to have an absolutely provable practical benefit when it is introduced into a company’s digital marketing strategy. If you are considering developing such an app for your company, consider limitations such as the restrictions that smartphones create and the difficulties of navigating a multi-device customer journey.

When an augmented reality app is well suited for the device it was created for, it can have a real impact on the consumer’s experience with the brand, as well as accelerate sales through appealing to the specific needs of individual customers, so it’s well worth taking some time to research the practicalities of this technology. The world may not be ready for AR contact lenses, but it’s definitely ready for AR shopping apps.