Augmented reality in retail
Online shopping has a great advantage over the traditional form of shopping. It allows you to make a purchase whenever and wherever you want, without the necessity of wasting your time on shopping around. Nonetheless, the traditional form of shopping has one basic merit. It allows you to see products with your own eyes, and physically touch them. It is the interaction with real objects that makes people reluctant to completely resign from the physical form of shopping. Can augmented reality change it and offer shoppers similar experience?
As the name implies, AR (augmented reality) augments things that are real and known to the audience. As opposed to virtual reality (VR), AR does not create a digital image of the world in which the audience immerses 100%, but it puts digital ‘perfection’ in the form of realistic animation or static picture on what is here and now. While VR allows us to break away from the real world, AR enriches it with new, unique elements showing us how a given item can be applied or adds a new context (Google Glass being the most known example). Not only is this excellent technique used in education and entertainment, but also in sales.
Many experts claim that it is AR that stands a better chance of dominating shopping and our everyday life, more than VR which is so popular these days. Why?
Firstly, most AR solutions do not require putting on uncomfortable and – let’s be honest – not too practical headsets or goggles that cut us off from reality. Very often, to avail of such solutions, all we need is an ordinary smartphone or tablet; (sometimes they are not even necessary, as all you need to do is place the product near the provided display, for the additional content to be displayed by itself).
Secondly, transferring digital experience onto the real world allows the recipient to focus on a specific need to be met- e.g. painting a wall choosing a specific color or selecting furniture for the living room. In the case of sales context, we do not create imaginary space, but the space that the recipient wants to see as the targeted result, which gives a strong impulse to buy.
Augmented reality is another step of trade development because it facilitates linking the two worlds, real and digital, without completely immersing into any of them. Simultaneously, it takes advantage of the best elements of those two poles. Using VR, you can enhance e.g. online shopping by making a given item visualize in a digital version in our home or office environment. In turn, shopping in the real environment can have a new dimension, when we obtain additional information about a product or see how it is applied in practice. Such solutions can also be used as an enrichment of printed material that comes alive before our very eyes when a mobile device with a specific app is placed near a magazine or folder.
Another indisputable advantage of such solutions is the possibility of using tools connected with social media. Items created by the buyer can be published and shared online. Buyers can ask their friends’ opinion and advice without the actual purchase of the product. Shops gain an additional tool for monitoring sales and insight into customers’ preferences.
AR in practice
What nature of purchasing activities is the most suitable for applying such solutions? Any type, as it all depends on the creativity of salesmen and implementation of the app. It is worth noting, however, that there are several segments of the market in which such solutions are used extremely often.
Fashion, make-up, and beauty
Wherever we intervene in our own outfit, style or even physicality, such solutions work surprisingly well. They allow us to see how well we can look in new clothes, hairstyle, wearing a specific tattoo or jewelry. To sum up – they give us a chance to look at the future, without bearing the consequences of our choice, which may not turn out to be good.
One of the most known examples of such activities is Loreal Makeup Genius app, designed for women. What makes it so unique that it has been downloaded as many as over 20 million times? It is a perfect reflection of make-up applied on a person’s face in real time. A photo of that person’s face is taken first (using a laptop or tablet camera). Due to such a simple trick, clients can see the real application of a Loreal product even before applying the real make-up, and do the make-up designed for the most famous celebrities.
AR is also commonly used by fashion brands in the form of virtual mirrors that allow us to try on garments without taking them to the fitting room. All you need to do is stand in front of a mirror, select the suitable garment in the app, and see it being put on your own image. Of course, this type of action can be applied to the entire outfit. Nike tests AR devices in its stores, giving users the opportunity to design their own shoes. All you need to do is put the selected Nike sneaker model into a special machine, select the suitable finish and see it being put on the real object using animation in real time.
Products and their applications that you want to see in practice
Some items may look perfect in the shopping arrangement or in the package, however without seeing or trying them on, it is difficult to decide on making a purchase. This category of items includes e.g. furniture or all sorts of home and office decorations. Ikea – which is renowned for non-standard marketing activities – is truly aware of that. In its stores, Ikea creates visualizations of rooms using the brand furniture. But how are we supposed to know how the furniture will look in our home? To this end, the Swedish brand linked the ‘standard relay’ in the form of its paper catalog with the AR application, enabling us to position digital, realistic looking furniture in real customer spaces.
Although it is unnecessary to convince parents about the superior quality of LEGO bricks, buying another box for your child can make you exceed your planned budget. What if the customer could see the model from the box in its real shape and dimensions, simply by placing the box underneath a special display? It stimulates imagination!
The quantity of foodstuffs on supermarket shelves has often led us to embarrassment and difficulty when choosing products. And what if an AR application could lead us to the hand offering solutions, recommending products from the shelf, or showing tried and tested recipes in which they can be used? Sounds like a distant future? Not necessarily. IBM introduced such an application several years ago, and it is tested in the stores of the British giant, Tesco. When navigating a smartphone towards a store shelf, buyers can select goods by prices, ingredients and receive additional information about them.
The future of AR shopping
With the popularity of smartphones, widespread access to the Internet and progressively faster and more capacious mobile devices, AR solutions will be increasingly popular. The wide variety of online-offline channel connections and adaptability to different uses are certainly a bonus. We bear in mind that there are new innovative technologies lining up, such as big data analysis, intelligent systems like Siri by Apple, or 3D printers. Integration of augmented reality with these technologies can transform the shopping world as we know today. The concept of a smart shopping assistant that combines all these features soon will not have to be considered as pure science fiction.