How Augmented Reality Benefits Retail and Shopping

Augmented Reality in Retail and Shopping

The technological world is changing fast, and as ever, retailers and marketers are doing their best to keep up. More and more, harnessing new tech innovations to provide the best shopping experience is key to success in the retail industry. One buzzword that has risen to the top lately is augmented reality shopping, but not everyone is clear on just what that means.

Augmented reality (AR) is a cousin of virtual reality (VR). Both technologies involve presenting the user with a computer-generated environment that can be manipulated and interacted with using natural, instinctive motions. For example, turning one’s head to rotate the view rather than moving a mouse.

The difference between the two technologies is one of degree. While VR completely replaces the real world with the computer-generated environment, augmented reality blends the real and the virtual. A VR experience typically involves wearing a headset that completely blocks one’s view of the real world. A user might put on the headset in their room at home, and be transported to a city far away.

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The concepts of VR and AR have been around for many years, but until recently were the stuff of science fiction novels. In the retail world, AR is an extremely exciting prospect for marketing and education.

Although dedicated AR headsets such as Microsoft HoloLens exist, the true beauty of AR is that it doesn’t really require the user to have any specialized hardware at all. A smartphone app can easily be the gateway to augmented reality shopping, or unobtrusive equipment located in a brick-and-mortar store.

It’s an exciting technology, and it’s easy to imagine many applications for augmented reality in retail. In today’s ultra-competitive world, it’s crucial to explore every option and avenue for capturing the attention and loyalty of customers.

8 Examples of Augmented Reality in Retail

By now, your gears must already be turning on how augmented reality shopping could improve and transform your retail business. For extra inspiration, check out some of our favorite AR shopping experiences! The technology has a place in both eCommerce and in brick-and-mortar stores. Here are some of the best examples of each.

1. Warby Parker

Warby Parker, a well-known name in online eyewear shopping, was a pioneer in using augmented reality for retail. Their virtual PD measurement tool is simple but effective, and its low barrier to entry means that just about anyone can use it without the need for expensive home equipment.

Several glasses retailers, including FramesDirect, offer the option to virtually try on glasses using easy online software. Users upload a photo, and the software can superimpose any available glasses in a matter of seconds. The difficulty of trying on frames in an online shopping environment is a challenge, and AR solves it with aplomb.

Warby Parker has their own version of augmented reality try-ons in the works, and also took things a step further. The company now uses AR to fine-tune the lenses of their prescription glasses. Shoppers use their webcam to upload a photo of themselves holding a credit card up to their face. Because credit cards are a standard size, Warby Parker can use the photo to calculate the pupillary distance of the shopper, the distance between their eyes.

2. Converse Shoes

Sneaker stalwart Converse Shoes had a similar idea in harnessing augmented reality for retail, but embraced the technology even more. Using the Converse Shoe Sampler shopping app, customers could search for the perfect shoe in the comfort of their own home without sacrificing the crucial try-on experience.

Sitting in a chair or on the couch, shoppers pointed their own smartphone down at their foot. The Shoe Sampler offers up a selection of footwear and superimposes them the camera image. By looking through the screen of their phone, customers can see what the shoe will look like when they’re wearing it.

Augmented reality retail has a definite “wow” factor, and Converse took advantage by integrating social share features into the app. Customers could save photos of the virtual shoe try-on and share them to a variety of social platforms. Facilitating people’s natural inclination to ask their friends for fashion advice naturally serves as great marketing for the app, which itself is marketing the shoes.

It’s a good funnel.

3. De Beers

At the high end of augmented reality in retail is De Beers. The jewelry maker turned to AR to market its Forevermark brand of diamonds, and their take on the technology was quite unique.

Visitors to the De Beers “My Forevermark Fitting” website printed paper cut-outs of jewelry. Sitting in front of their computer webcam, users hold the piece of paper up to their face. On the screen, augmented reality technology transforms the paper into any of De Beers’ Forevermark pieces.

It’s a stunning effect, like magic, and De Beers received a great deal of buzz and press for the site. Integrating a physical object into the augmented reality experience makes it seem even more real for users. Especially in a high value market like jewelry, it’s important to make a strong and memorable impression.

4. IKEA

The famous furniture store uses augmented reality to turn a customer’s home into a shopping center. One challenge of the furniture retail market is helping customers figure out how products will fit into their homes. In the past, furniture sales depended on customers taking measurements of their homes and existing furniture, or hiring the help of an interior designer who might have her own ideas of what brand furniture to use.

The new IKEA catalogue app has an innovative AR feature that lets customers do their shopping at home, up to and including fitting new chairs, sofas, and shelving into their rooms. Employing a printed IKEA catalog as a size reference, the catalogue app blows up a life-size 3D image of furniture. Users look at their house through their phone screen and can see their potential buys sitting in their house, and can even walk around them to see different angles.

It’s a wonderful example of both marketing and usability enhancement, and users who have tested the app have universally reported that it makes the furniture selection process much easier and more fun.

5. Topshop

Augmented reality in retail stores has proven enormously effective in attracting and retaining customer. Russian clothing retailer Topshop has made the most of technology by creating an AR fitting room.

Topshop’s flagship Moscow location is the site of an augmented reality kiosk. Standing in front of the structure, visitors see themselves just like looking in a mirror. By using hand gestures and virtual buttons, shoppers can superimpose clothing onto their image.

Placing the “fitting room” right out in the open allows groups of friends and family collaborate to find the best look. A shopper can quickly try on multiple outfits and show them off, without needing to remove a stitch of their own clothing first.

The technology works easily and seamlessly, without special equipment or training needed for the user. Lowering the barrier to entry for AR has proven very successful for Topshop, and their AR fitting room is a big hit.

6. Shiseido

Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido has their own take on Topshop’s AR kiosk. A touchscreen monitor placed in retail stores has an integrated camera. Shoppers use a simple interface to snap a photo of themselves and then virtually apply different makeup colors and styles to their face.

The experience is patterned after looking into the mirror at a makeup counter, an experience with which many women are familiar. Shiseido’s software is able to intelligently analyze user’s choices and make recommendations of new products and techniques, simulating the services of a makeup professional.

Like trying on clothes, applying makeup in a cosmetics store can be time-consuming and even unpleasant for shoppers. Shiseido’s augmented reality retail experience streamlines the process and makes it much easier, increasing sales and customer engagement. Visitors love using the AR “mirror”, and it makes visiting a Shiseido location fun rather than a necessary chore.

7. American Apparel

Bridging the gap between augmented reality in retail eCommerce and brick-and-mortar is American Apparel’s Shopping Assistant app. American Apparel noticed many of their clientele were glued to their mobile devices while walking through their stores, and decided to embrace the situation.

Like other similar apps, the Shopping Assistant allows users to scan products while in the store to read reviews, view related items, and see all the available colors. The app is extremely user-friendly, able to recognize products on the rack without the need to locate a special bar code or other label.

The blending between eCommerce and brick-and-mortar retail is a growing trend, and customers checking out sales, price comparisons, and reviews online while standing amongst the racks is impossible to avoid. By providing their own branded augmented reality for retail shoppers, American Apparel has successfully harnessed this tendency to benefit rather than detract from sales.

8. Walgreens

The large drugstore chain Walgreens is currently testing a very advanced application of augmented reality in retail locations across the US. The stores are famously large and a bit labyrinthine, and Walgreens hopes AR technology will help make things a bit easier for their shoppers.

Centered around a tablet provided by Walgreens and mounted to their shopping carts, the AR application offers a map of the store with the user’s current location clearly marked and updated in real-time. Users can search for products and be led directly to them with a minimum of fuss.

From a marketing standpoint, the technology offers some interesting opportunities for Walgreens. Items with promotions or specials are highlighted on the map, and will actually pop up on the screen as shoppers pass by.

Using a specially designed camera on the tablets, the shopping carts can map their location down to the inch. That’s accurate enough to point out a tempting item right as a visitor passes by it. By integrating with Walgreens’ existing loyalty program, they are able to harness data about buyers’ shopping habits and inform them of deals that are tailored to their interests.

Getting Started With Augmented Reality Retail Apps

Programming virtual reality and augmented reality apps takes specialized knowledge, and it’s important to pick the right software development house. A combination of marketing savvy and advanced technical knowhow is required for VR and AR production. It’s a relatively new field that has ties to software development, systems integration, and mobile app development.

The best augmented and virtual reality solutions aren’t necessarily the ones with the most unique features and bells and whistles. Rather, they’re the ones that get across the client’s message the most effectively.

For an eCommerce site hoping customers will engage with an AR experience at home, it’s important to have a fun, engaging app that people will enjoy using. Almost as important as directly making sales in this case is "shareability", letting users have a good time that they’ll want to share with their friends. The option to automatically save photos or videos of the app’s result and seamlessly share it to social media will go a long way here.

In a brick-and-mortar location, usability is king. Once a customer is in the store, it’s crucial to give them a useful, streamlined experience that will quickly lead them to the right product. Customers appreciate software that truly aids them in their purchasing decision, and they’ll show their appreciation with repeat business.

How AppReal Can Help?

AppReal are experts at custom development, and they’ve been working with new technologies since 2011. The company has immense knowledge of the AR and VR fields, both from a technical standpoint and in how to implement them to best effect.

Since this isn’t true, let’s not write it. AppReal utilizes the Agile model for software development. This type of development prioritizes collaboration between developers at AppReal and liaisons at the client by always keeping an executable build of the software available.

That means that at any stage of development, the client can see and test the product as it exists at that point. The software is always usable in some form, so that both AppReal and the client can easily keep tabs on its progress.

AppReal is a virtual reality software development company with excellent experience in augmented reality development as well, and is very well positioned to advise and execute on these new, high-tech marketing techniques. Their custom, bespoke solutions are tailored to each client, not stamped out like commodities, and their pride and love of their craft really shows.In case you wish to stay ahead of the curve and develop your own AR/VR App, you should immediately contact us.