About two decades ago, Walmart failed to recognize the potential of the internet. As a result, Amazon was able to claim a significant portion of the big box chain’s retail audience, and the success of online retail has only skyrocketed since. This goes to show how detrimental it can be to ignore the potential that new technology and innovation can bring.
In the world of retail, a new innovation is on the rise which merchants can't afford to ignore, and this is augmented reality (AR). AR is the integration of digital information with the user's environment in real time. Unlike VR, which creates a totally new environment, AR uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it (think Snapchat filters, Pokemon go, etc).
So how is augmented reality relevant to retail? Well, turns out there are a number of ways the AR can, and already is being incorporated into online as well as brick-and-mortar commerce.
Bring the store to the shopper
The biggest hurtle customers often face, especially when shopping online, is determining whether a product is right for them. AR in particular can provide users with an in-store shopping experience, regardless of their location. Devices can superimpose 3D objects in various spaces, giving customers a chance to interact with digital renderings from the comfort of their own homes.
A great example of a company that has leveraged AR technology in their favor is IKEA. In 2013, IKEA created an AR catalog app to help customers visualize how certain pieces of furniture would fit and look in their very own homes. Customers simply launch the app on their smartphone or tablet, and use the camera function to capture an image of a room in their home. The customer can then select different items from the IKEA catalog to see how the finished, assembled piece of furniture will look in their home before they purchase.
in 2010, eyewear retailer Warby Parker found a way to stand out from the competitors by allowing shoppers to try items on before a purchase. Customers love the convenience of trying things on from home, and virtual shopping has the potential to offer the same luxury, but without any of the costs associated with shipping products to clients. The possibility of creating an avatar and having it try on digital clothing is just around the corner. This could be revolutionary for online retailers, as a 2015 study by Walker Sands showed that 35 percent of consumers surveyed said they would shop more online if they could interact with products virtually.
Another example of this is Sephora, who's app allows users to take a "selfie" and then virtually try out various makeup products. While customers used to have to go to the store to try out products, it can all be done virtually now, streamlining the shopping experience.
Nordstrom is famous for its customer service, and this is due in part to the personalized shopping experience they offer in stores. Guided by a knowledgable employee who knows the customers size, style, and preferences, Nordstrom shoppers feel more comfortable and confident with their purchases.
Augmented reality has the potential to offer a similar service to the masses. Customized suggestions combined with the ability to test out different variations of products from anywhere truly brings the personal shopping experience to any customer, anywhere at any time.
Businesses that benefit the most from emerging technology are those who are willing to take a risk and invest early in innovations that have potential. Shoppers are constantly looking for a simpler, more convenient shopping experience and AR can provide just that. It is up to retailers, however, to see this potential and bring it into reality for their own, as well as their customers' gain.