For many people, ‘augmented reality’ might bring to mind mobile games like Pokémon Go, or Amazon’s ‘try before you buy’ AR feature, which allows you to see products placed in your home.
Augmented reality technology (AR) presents big opportunities for many businesses that want to enhance their real-world environment with computer-generated sensory information. However, it’s retail companies that are leading the charge in using AR technology faster than other types of businesses. And a good thing too - in 2021, 74% of global consumers said they anticipated AR would become more important in their lives over the next five years (Deloitte).
We caught up with friend of Pixel and all-round AR expert Alastair Eilbeck, Ph.D., Director at media arts studio, Meyouandus, and AR technology startup FeedAR to find out more about how AR is revolutionising retail spaces for the benefit of customers.
Pixel: What does AR in retail usually look like?
AE: In the past, augmented reality has been a bit of a novelty in retail with one-off campaigns that allow you to try on clothes, makeup and such like. But nowadays more campaigns are appearing that are really useful for enhancing customer experience in-store, like AR wayfinding and room decorators.
Pixel: Do you believe that AR can help bridge the gap between online and offline shopping experiences?
AE: When using AR, you’re trying to get the best of both worlds - online and offline. The offline, or in-store, experience has the tactile advantage. You’re able to touch the things you see and interact with them that way. So the sweet spot of bridging the gap between both experiences is to use AR to further people’s offline experience by providing them with an online experience - or an ‘endless aisle’. This is where customers can access an infinite amount of stock that might not be available in the store they’re currently in, and it can be personalised to each individual.
Pixel: How is retail contributing to AR becoming more mainstream?
AE: Most people think of AR as a purely visual thing, but it’s the technology behind AR that is most powerful. Whilst it has an ability to understand where you are in the world and what you’re looking at, and create images based on that, it can also be used by retailers for customer loyalty apps and employee training services, so it goes beyond the visual. As systems become more integrated across the business, it becomes easier to apply AR in better ways.
Pixel: What are some potential benefits of using AR in retail, both for consumers and retailers?
AE: Augmented reality crosses the three key locations in retail - headquarters, the store and in home - and it benefits all three. For example, AR can be used operationally for creating and storing important documents, it can be used at home or in store by customers to read or leave reviews and access further product information, along with much more.
One of the significant benefits of AR in stores, of course, is that it helps to boost sales. By providing customers with an immersive shopping experience, retailers can engage customers and increase their chances of making a sale. But it can also be used for staff training purposes, virtual stock takes and other things that can make an employee’s work life that little bit easier.
Pixel: What are the challenges / limitations that retailers may face when implementing augmented reality technology?
AE: The spatial data that’s needed for AR already exists in various operational channels across businesses, but often it’s not used because of silos.
Another problem is, of course, having the mobile signal or WiFi in-store to implement effective AR. The limitation is that if you’ve got a bad signal, connecting to an app or a browser on your phone to access the AR features can be tricky, and then you lose the effect of the technology. One way to get around it is customers already having a store’s app downloaded, but not everyone is going to do this, so something like a QR code can be a game changer
QR codes can take a customer to a website, or help them access many different things that are AR based that an app can’t always do. But really, the best way to avoid a challenge like this is to ensure that mobile signal is optimal.
Pixel: How can retailers effectively market and promote their augmented reality offerings to attract customers?
AE: I’d say one of the best ways to promote AR is to advocate the use of it beyond the normal campaigns, such as M&S’ AR wayfinding app which allows customers to enter a shopping list of products and follow an on-screen path to their on-shelf locations.
Show your customers the value of AR in furthering your company and products beyond just brand activations. And, of course, getting celebrity endorsements is never a bad idea either.
It's clear from our conversation with Alastair that AR has incredible potential to continue enhancing retail stores and positioning brands and companies at the forefront of immersive retail experience
Harnessing the power of augmented reality technology could be exactly what your business needs to make it stand out from competitors - so get in touch with us today to find out more about integrating AR into your store.
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