augmented reality retail

Augmented reality retail: how it’s transforming the industry

By Cristina Ferrandez

Augmented reality retail is not the future, it is very much already here. Already 75% of people say they expect retailers to offer an AR experience. In response to this overwhelming demand, 32% of retailers are already planning to use AR or VR. And that’s only among those who haven’t already adopted it.

And yet, augmented reality retail is still in its early days and many retailers are struggling to adopt AR technologies.

From improving the in-store shopping experience to decreasing online shopping returns, AR has the potential to completely transform the way customers shop and engage with brands. In this article we go through some of the most exciting use cases and the reasons why late adopters will be missing out.

1. Allow customers to visualise your products in their home

Product visualisation allows your customers to virtually place one of your products in their environment, for example at their home. Users can modify the size, colour and placement of products and then visualise them through their screen.

Product visualisation is a great way to ensure your customers pick the right products before making an online purchase. Sometimes it can be hard to gauge whether a product will fit, so by giving them this tool you will be helping them to make better shopping decisions and, ultimately, diminish product returns. Also, your customers will love you for it!

Brands such as IKEA are already offering product visualisation apps through augmented reality to great success, so we can only expect the trend to continue from here on. Not to mention the fact that customers will begin to actively choose online shops that do offer this feature, so those who don’t jump on the bandwagon will be missing out on key customers.

Ikea Place app
Ikea Place app

2. Enable customers to virtually “try on” your products

Houzz reports that customers are 11x more likely to buy a product when AR try-on is available.

It’s not just about the rise in online shopping, in general 69% aged 18 to 39 search products on mobile before buying, even if they do eventually make the purchase in-store.

So what exactly is virtual try-on?

Similarly to product visualisation, virtual try-on empowers customers to “try on” products, such as clothing and make-up, using AR on mobile devices or desktop. This can help them make more informed decisions about size, colour and more generally whether a product suits them. The result is higher customer satisfaction and fewer returns.

Big brands like Lacoste and Sephora are already implementing virtual try-on to great success and we can only expect this trend to increase.

3. Provide customers with in-store augmented reality retail experiences

Despite the rise in online shopping, brick and mortar stores aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. This might shock you, but brick and mortar sales still account for 94% of total retail sales.

What is changing is that customers are using their mobile phones to find out information about products while in-store. What better way to bridge that gap than by offering AR-powered tools? This can help bring the information they seek to their fingertips even faster.

In fact, 55% would like to access interactive content when they point their phone at a product. Whether it is product reviews, colour and size options, prices or tips about product matches, there is no shortage of additional information you could include to make the shopping experience more informed and enjoyable.

This kind of technology is great for encouraging customers to spend more time in-store and even up-selling to them. You could also incorporate other forms of customer loyalty and rewards within your in-store app, such as a virtual loyalty card.

augmented reality retail
American Apparel shopping assistant app

4. Implement virtual fitting rooms in-store

A similar concept to virtual try-on is being championed by big brands such as Timberland. These are virtual fitting rooms that can be accessed at in-store screens.

Virtual fitting rooms are great when fitting room queues are too long or customers simply can’t be bothered to try products on. When, in the past, they might have given up on a product entirely, with a virtual fitting room all it takes is a few moments in front of a screen to visualise if a product suits them. The impact this could have on sales is considerable.

Timberland’s virtual fitting room

5. Provide fun in-store experiences to encourage repeat visitors

One of the most exciting things about AR is that it brings unique possibilities for augmented reality shopping experiences that simply weren’t possible before.

Things like promotional campaigns that require physical activation, AR treasure hunts and in-store face filters and mini-games can create a more fun experience for shoppers and encourage them to come back. Brands like Walmart have greatly benefited from these kinds of campaigns.

In particular, a treasure hunt can encourage them to explore more areas of the store and activate codes from different products around it. Campaigns like these can be particularly effective when coupled with special rewards and promotional offers.

augmented reality retail
Walmart have developed many AR campaigns

6. Tap into print magazines and sell more to readers

As we mentioned earlier, 55% of consumers want to access interactive content when pointing their phone at a product. However, this doesn’t just apply to in-store experiences. A great avenue to explore within retail AR is print magazines. Magazines like W Magazine are already experimenting with this approach.

Think about a time when you were reading a fashion or design magazine and came across a product you loved. Until recently, you would have had to find the product name in the small print, match it to the right image and then enter it on Google.

Now imagine you could just point your phone at the image and be taken directly to their online store. Wouldn’t that be great?

When it comes to retail, convenience can really make or break a sale, and the increased sales potential could be staggering.

7. Transport customers to your real-life events with a portal

Holding a special event at a particular location? Taking part in the red carpet of a film festival? Attending an international trade show?

Your reach at these events no longer needs to be limited to the people physical attending them. With an AR portal, you can invite people to become immersed in your event through their mobile device.

A portal is a doorway into a virtual world that people can enter and explore. We previously partnered with L’Oréal to create one such portal at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The result was a Facebook portal and face filter that immersed their followers into the glamorous feel of the TIFF’s red carpet.

Portals are a great way to immerse your audience more into your brand journey, to build brand recognition and awareness and to improve engagement.

L’Oréal’s TIFF portal transported users to the red carpet

8. Increase brand engagement on social (and make some extra sales while you’re at it)

Finally, retailers should not underestimate the power of social. Even when social engagement can’t be translated directly into sales figures, the positive effects and increased brand recognition do have a huge impact in the long run.

One of the most creative ways to use AR in social is to offer mini versions of virtual try-on or product visualisation that people can capture and share on social. Kylie Jenner did this very well when she launched a face filter that allowed followers to try on different shades of her lipstick line. Although not strictly a part of the online shopping process, it did have the effect of getting people to try them on who may not have done so otherwise.

The other great thing about social media when it comes to AR effects is that by nature these effects are very sharable. This means that social is the best channel to grow your following and reach new people.

Kylie Jenner’s lipstick filter (Harper’s Bazaar)

What platforms can I publish on?

Although Facebook and Snapchat are currently the most popular AR platforms in the market, they are not the only ones. Instagram is opening up to brands this summer and will probably grow to dominate the industry.

Beyond social media, augmented reality retail experiences can be published across both the web and native mobile apps. For example, a virtual try-on web AR experience could become a part of your online shopping website or your shopping app.

Each of these platforms has its own benefits and drawbacks, so which one you end up going for will depend on your specific needs and campaigns.

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