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Augmented reality: tech buzzword or retail game Changer? (Spoiler: it’s the latter)

Laybuy blog AR

Following on from our recent blog about the world of virtual reality (VR), I thought I’d look at another technology also about to revolutionise the retail sector: augmented reality, or AR.

Now you may be thinking ‘AR, VR… is there any difference?’ Well the former is in fact a unique proposition from the latter and has totally different uses and implications for the retail sector. Let me explain.

Augmented reality does just what it says on the tin. It augments your reality, adding digital elements to what you see in the real world, often by using the camera on a smartphone. Many people use AR on a daily basis without knowing it, for example when they’re regularly transforming into a bunny via an Instagram filter, or taking a look into how handsome they’ll be as an octogenarian via the endlessly entertaining FaceApp.

This is different from virtual reality which puts you into a completely virtual environment that shuts out the physical world – but no less impactful when it comes to the retail landscape. Take Ikea as an example. It’s the furniture giant that can do no wrong when it comes to marketing, and its take on using augmented reality is no exception.

Picture the scenario. You’re in the showroom. That lime green sofa looks oh so stylish in the faux-living room setup you’ve just walked past. You’ve simply got to have it. Imagine now if, rather than getting it home and remembering it doesn’t quite go with your yellow rug, you could actually see it in your living room. Using your smartphone you can place a digital version of that sofa into an image of your lounge and see it in situ before you commit. Less buyer’s remorse from the consumer, less returns for the retailer, and way more stylish living rooms!

US extreme sports brand, Mountain Hardwear, created an AR app allowing shoppers to visualise the size of a new tent in comparison to other real-life objects in-store. It’s an equally interesting and brilliant sales aid; if I’m going to be relying on something for shelter on the side of a mountain, I sure want to have a good idea of what it looks like before I commit.

All these uses of AR provide an extra level of interactivity and a way for consumers to visualise products as a part of their lives, which we’ve not previously seen in the retail environment. Imagine an outdoor retail shop being able to cut down on physical displays, switch to smaller properties and then utilise an AR-enabled app to offer tours of equipment. It could also work as a highly compelling feature that encourages shoppers to download a retailer’s app, which in turn can also highlight special offers and promotions.

The beauty of AR is that the barrier to entry for the consumer is low. The vast majority of shoppers own a smartphone and this technology can be developed for devices they already have on their person most of the time. The only hurdle could be the need to download a specific app, but if the incentive to do so is strong enough – an interactive experience bundled with perhaps an introductory offer or exclusive discounts – then this shouldn’t be too much of a barrier.

With technology and the internet changing the face of retail forever, and rapidly developing all the time, there are so many retail sectors that can and already benefit from AR. It is already possible to see what a new lipstick or blusher shade looks like on your face before making a purchase. Imagine shopping for clothes online and then being able to ‘try on’ the clothes using an AR app – in fact don’t take too long imagining it, because Amazon is already working on making this a reality. There are endless possibilities at the moment and it’s highly engaging for consumers, so the potential is huge. It will be interesting to see how the technology, and the use-cases, develop.

In these highly competitive times, both in-store and online, retailers need to look for ways to differentiate themselves and provide an even better experience for consumers. An AR application could be a way of achieving this. With mobile phones being used ever-more to shop online, and app eCommerce usage increasing by up to 200% for some retailers, using augmented reality is no longer ‘the future’, but a logical and accessible next step.

How virtual reality could shape the future of retail

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Alex Rohloff
Alex Rohloff

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