Originally published at onix-systems.com.
Stiff competition drives companies to reimagining experiences for modern consumers. Along with social and voice commerce, augmented and virtual reality commerce are seen as viable solutions. Retail showcasing is a leading AR and VR spending trend. New technologies enable products to ‘come to life’ and to immerse users deeper into a shopping experience. Unique experiences empower businesses to entertain, educate, and engage consumers as never before.
As the availability of VR/AR to wider audiences is growing, forward-looking retailers and online stores should get ready to incorporate them into their business flows. It’s reasonable to take greater advantage of augmented reality first. It’s accessible without specialized gear on a shopper’s smartphone. This advantage is coupled with the growing number of purchases via mobile devices and shoppers using smartphones in stores.
This article offers some ideas for enhancing customer experiences and marketing with AR.
1. Augmented Reality Shopping Solutions for Ecommerce
AR enables potential customers to experience products and services at home and to make informed purchase decisions. They can examine a realistic 3D model of a product as if it was in front of them. AR functionalities are especially valuable where the decision depends on where the product is used.
Return of the goods often comes down to the consumer’s inability to visualize them within their setting. For example, HORNE sells unique furnishing items only online. Interior designers make up a large segment of their customers. People would frequently send in a photo of a room and ask ‘Would that lamp look good?’ Thanks to AR, now they can see it in their room, next to the pieces they already own. A designer can shoot a link over to their client. They’ll pop a product up on their phone, point it at their room, and make the decision.
The multi-channel Anthropologie released an eponymous mobile app with a similar feature. It empowers shoppers to customize the look of the furniture with different fabrics, colors, and finishes. It gives views from different angles and even with different lighting. Creatively visualizing a piece in their home, consumers get closer to the idea of owning it and feel more confident about purchases starting at thousands of dollars.
Cosmetics are also better to “try before you buy.” MakeupGenius app by L’Oréal Paris was the first to let consumers make up their face virtually. They could match and even mix products to create the desired look.
Sephora also offered virtual makeup and overlaying tutorials on selfies. If the user liked the look, they could buy it. (Notice how both applications are reducing the number of steps to make a purchase while showcasing products.)
Almost 70% of online shoppers still abandon their carts. Businesses must work harder to convince them to purchase. In some aspects, online shopping should feel more like being inside a physical store. Again, AR and VR provide an answer. Virtual stores and showrooms offer more immersive shopping experiences than most ecommerce apps.
Retail stores’ main advantage over ecommerce is that shoppers can see how garments fit and look on their body. AR apps are changing the game by offering virtual fitting rooms. GAP was one of the first to do it with the DressingRoom app. Users pick their body size, select an item, and see a digital mannequin wearing it. Users can see how garments look from different angles and purchase them from within the app.
Such solutions reduce the fit issues, decrease purchases returns, and increase customer satisfaction.
Design houses, uniform manufacturers, and others in the apparel industry should consider AR technology opportunities too. Augmented reality clothing applications will empower them to close the gap between online and brick-and-mortar stores. The apps will be able to determine the customer’s sizes, including length adjustments, across several product lines. Custom-tailored garments will be faster, easier, and more affordable to make and acquire.
Texas-based Rebel Athletic launched a mobile AR app in 2018. The smartphone camera takes a full-length body scan. From it, accurate measurements are derived and used to achieve custom-fit clothing. The app integrates with Salesforce and Customer Relationship Management platforms that can be used for individual and team business orders.
AR apps also mean apparel customization opportunities. They will empower users to design, customize, and ‘try on’ virtually garments even for unique body shapes.
The business potential unlocked by augmented reality is accessible for all. For example, Shopify AR’s toolkit empowers small businesses to create own AR experiences. There’s a marketplace of 3D modeling services and 3D Warehouse App to store the models of the products. It’s easy to add Apple’s AR Quick Look support to the store. The 3D models are viewable in AR through the Safari browser on iOS 12 devices. Neither a headset nor even a separate mobile app is required.
People may be reluctant to download an AR-enabled app and use it as the primary shopping tool. Having it baked into the browser solves the problem. Web-powered AR facilitates experiences readily available through mobile browsers. Safari retains nearly half of the U.S. market share for mobile browsers. That means that a significant portion of Apple users will be ready to shop with AR.
Finally, AR solutions seem to have a potential in attracting people to physical stores.
2. AR In-Store Experiences
Brick-and-mortar stores remain essential for most people’s regular shopping experience. However, with online shopping booming and ecommerce moguls venturing offline, physical stores have to adjust rapidly. Their evolution implies transitioning to a more frictionless environment and new ways to delight and engage consumers.
Customer apps and beacon technology are some of the tools that already enhance in-store experiences. AR headsets or dedicated mobile apps allow companies to project additional content and information about the displayed items. According to ‘The Impact of Augmented Reality on Retail’ study, that’s what 65% of shoppers use AR for. 77% want to see product differences, e.g., possible variations of colors and styles.
What’s unique about AR-powered solutions is the ‘infotainment’ edge they bring. For example, Lego had introduced AR in-store kiosks back in 2009. People would hold up a box in front of the kiosk and on its screen would see the contents ‘assembled’ on top of the box.
No wonder most users claim that shopping is also more fun with AR. It helps businesses to curate shopping journeys and more interactive in-store experiences, drive more foot traffic and publicity, and make their goods stand out. For example, in 2014, Timberland created a virtual fitting room and turned it into a main window display. People could try items on without even having to enter the store, search for their size, and so on.
Many shoppers might even pay more for a product which they could experience through AR. (Make sure to place purchase buttons at appropriate places in your AR shopping experience!) Finally, most consumers prefer stores that offer AR solutions and feel more positive about such retailers or brands.
Increasingly sophisticated AR and mobile technology can be leveraged to connect with customers, bridge the gap between mobile devices and physical retail, link together a brand’s offline and online shopping experiences, drive in-store visits, and increase sales. Zara released an AR shopping mobile app in 2018. The goal was to engage increasingly mobile-focused shoppers. When users point the camera at a mannequin or the screen of their ecommerce purchase, a model wearing the clothing appears. From there, they can click to shop the look and related items, as well as snap and share the holograms on social media.
AR solutions can directly facilitate purchase processes. In November 2018, at ComplexCon in Long Beach, Adidas Originals debuted an AR feature that assisted in buying limited-edition sneakers. The attendees had to download the ComplexCon app and enable push notifications. During the event, the app would direct them to beacons set up throughout the venue to ‘Unlock the Drop.’ At a location, they had to point the smartphone at AR-powered signs and follow the revealed instructions to pick a size and pay. Finally, they would pick up the purchase from a designated locker.
As the full potential of augmented reality shopping continues to unfold, in-store AR experiences will be increasingly accessible and valuable for companies and customers.
3. Augmented Reality Stores
Modern consumers expect to be able to shop online, in a store, or wherever they want. Back in 2010, GoldRun mobile app helped to create the world’s first augmented reality store for Airwalk. Geolocation, mobile, and AR technologies helped to bring limited-edition sneakers directly to the biggest skate and surf spots. Two ‘invisible stores’ were set up in Washington Square Park in NYC and Venice Beach in LA. Virtual versions of the sneakers were GPS-linked to each location. Users of a dedicated AR app would capture them and get a unique code link to make the purchase.
The campaign resulted in $5 million in earned media. Airwalk’s online store had its busiest weekend by that time.
Such ‘pop-up stores’ offer the opportunity to create engaging targeted shopping experiences, a cheap yet highly-effective sales channel, and a chance to increase brand awareness. The solution is especially attractive if coupled with a store- or product-specific game that encourages users to play with and experience the products.
4. Augmented Reality for Marketing and Promotion
The marketing area looks like a perfect environment for augmented and virtual reality implementation. At its simplest, AR provides an innovative way to spice up business presentations and to connect a brand’s catalog with the mobile experience.
AR technology helps retailers attract customers to stores, connect to and communicate with them. ‘The Impact of Augmented Reality on Retail’ states that 72% of shoppers have purchased items they weren’t planning on because of AR. 41% of AR users were allegedly using it due to deals and special promotions. Regularly updated exclusive AR content can combine with mini-games for loyalty point collection. That makes repeat store visits valuable.
Walmart’s AR app helped to bring in holiday shoppers in December 2018. The users would scan Zapcodes to activate AR content sponsored by consumer brands. The activities included a virtual sleigh-ride down the aisles, interactions with brand mascots, mini-games, and face filters. Shoppers could share the AR experiences on social networks.
The app’s five-star rating on App Store reflects the amount of holiday cheer. Simultaneously, it was driving traffic, boosted customer engagement, and reinforced Walmart’s retail identity as the home of major brands.
AR-powered solutions help to extend a brand’s reach. For example, millennials are looking for fresh ways to engage with stores and brands. Delightful AR experiences are just the way to connect with, market to, and serve such customers. Useful and fun features in a brand app also drive app downloads and usage, helping owners to build digital channels.
Apparel and accessories retailer Tilly’s has a website, mobile app, and 200+ stores, many based in shopping malls. In 2017, an AR promotion brought together animated 3D images, in-store video camera, and a huge video screen in one of those stores. 3D animation was overlaid on the shoppers’ images to show them interacting with a life-size dragon, octopus tentacles, dinosaurs, and so on. The video feed was projected to the front window. The results included a 30% store traffic hike and more consumers downloading the brand’s mobile app.
Tilly’s also used AR in a treasure hunt tied to back-to-school shopping. It encouraged store exploration, interaction with hero products, and instant sharing of social media content. The participants downloaded or updated the app and allowed location tracking and phone camera access. Then, they searched the stores for animated coins connected to marker images. Shoppers who found three coins received a discount coupon. The event drove “tens of thousands” of entrants to stores, who yielded an 80% coupon redemption rate. There was a 23% increase in app downloads.
AR and computer vision already allow digital teleportations. Once a person is filmed, the processed visual input can be sent to another’s smartphone as a life-like hologram. The technology may soon revolutionize the way we communicate with each other. Currently, it creates a new medium for fashion retail.
In 2017, fashion label RIXO London upgraded its digital marketing and sales. They created an AR catwalk with life-sized holograms of models wearing pieces from the latest collection. Imagine a personal fashion show, on demand, in your living room. As new designs become available, users will receive and project them with their smartphones.
Augmented reality clothing apps like this are going to impact the way fashion collections are showcased and marketed.
5. Augmented Brand Awareness and Loyalty
Although consumers are more willing to shop via a retail app than ever before, retailers need to create better personalized experiences to meet their expectations. In the overcrowded retail and ecommerce world, it’s also vital to find new and more sophisticated ways to stand out, engage customers, and establish new brands. Sometimes it means taking risks.
An AR application need not be useful to consumers. Generating buzz is enough. Outdoor clothing retailer Moosejaw once released a free app for iPhone and Android to be used for in-store signs and the printed and online catalog. It endowed the users with “X-ray vision” so they could see what the models were wearing — if anything — beneath the clothes. Notably, there were 250,000 downloads. The campaign allegedly drove a 37% sales hike during Thanksgiving weekend alone.
Augmented reality shopping solutions don’t even need to be profitable or convert users. It’s the customer experience that primarily matters. 7-Eleven uses AR, chatbots, and rewards programs to drive customer loyalty. Entertaining AR in-store experiences are becoming essential to its promotions. In April 2018, the chain received a 73% rating on the best in-store experiences. That may signal that the marketing efforts resonate with customers.
A recent one was tied to the 2018 NFL season kickoff. Scannable codes throughout the aisles let customers earn rewards and unlock selfie experiences. Points were earned while playing a mobile game and sharing face filters with friends on social media. The games and filters were team-specific in Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. For example, fans could snap an ‘autographed’ selfie with a virtual version of a local football star. Rotating AR features were driving repeat visits.
AR built into a product may assist in building communications that last long after the product was consumed. For example, in 2017, Danone employed AR technology for improving customers’ loyalty. A yogurt for children was coming with scannable magnets. A mobile app recognized them to animate planets, galaxies, aliens, and spaceships. Dino, the Danone mascot, would tell exciting facts about the Universe, educating and engaging the young consumers emotionally. To learn the whole story, they had to collect all the magnets. Photos with the 3D animations were shareable on Instagram or Facebook in one click. The AR app became a leader in the family category on the App Store.
AR may be instrumental in building brand identities associated with latest trends, top-notch technology, quality, care, and personalization.
In the data-driven world, businesses should collect every piece of information about the customers. There should be some measurement of AR usage within an app: what percentage of people used the feature, how long they used AR per session, where they went while using it, whether they bought (more of) the product, and so on. AR in-store implementations should augment measurement of customer behavior. Owners need to compare those who used AR with those who did not, any influence of AR experiences on their perception of the brand, and so on.
Augmented reality is expected to gain traction with consumers in a few categories in 2019. In retail, it may prove useful in improving customer engagement and retention, raising brand awareness, and boosting sales. AR features enhance traditional in-store experiences. Language barriers and other conversion obstacles can be removed. Retailers get new ways to interact with customers and strengthen customer relationships. AR which adds something unique to the customer journey motivates people to revisit the store.
AR applications are revolutionizing mobile and online shopping and bring ecommerce platforms to a new level. Augmented reality shopping features which bring products to life entice people to buy. Virtual visualization provides greater interaction with products for remote customers and more personalization options. Extended showroom experiences drive purchases and the ability to ‘try before they buy’ promotes informed purchase decisions. It’s not only increasing conversions and reducing returns. It’s fostering more happy customers. AR is also about to change the way the fashion industry creates, showcases, and retails its products.
AR-powered solutions and products help brands stand out and build awareness. Augmented and virtual reality commerce provides marketers with a completely new experience and marketing channel. An AR app can stimulate the consumers’ interest in a product, become a part of a smart marketing campaign, and attract new audiences. The exploration of data associated with AR experiences and related physical behavior provides valuable insights into customer behaviors.
The inspirational examples cited in this post prove that AR’s role is growing. So is the number of brands leveraging augmented and virtual reality. Together, they facilitate the global onset of AR and VR commerce.
Many thanks to Vladislav Ukraintsev from Onix VR/AR for the assistance in writing this post!
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