If you’re a retailer or e-commerce business owner, augmented reality (AR) cannot be ignored in your current marketing mix. The retail industry is in the midst of a major transformation: customers are demanding a more sophisticated, technology-oriented shopping experience right from their handheld devices.
In fact, chances are your competitors are already serving these new customer demands: many already offer an AR app that allows buyers to experience products anytime and anywhere before they actually make the purchase.
To make your business futureproof, you must provide a technology-based immersive experience to your prospective customers. The benefits of augmented reality in retail is being leveraged by almost all major players and as a retailer, you cannot afford to be left behind.
What is augmented reality in retail?
Augmented reality in retail refers to the use of augmented reality apps to attract and engage customers. This is accomplished by overlaying an image or interactive elements on an existing external landscape, viewed through a device display.
Retailers’ mobile apps can simulate the customer’s buying experience, offering them options to choose a product or visualize a product against real environments using the on-screen display.
The most promising use for AR, of course, is the enhanced “try-before-you-buy” experience it offers. Need some inspiration for your retail business? Here are some examples from early AR adopters:
|IKEA Place||IKEA’s AR app allows customers to preview 3D furniture models at their homes, based on which they could make buying decisions.|
|L’Oreal Makeup Genius App||Potential customers can try and blend different makeup combinations, then automatically apply it on an image of their face using AR.|
|Magicplan||Render floor plans of a physical space using a mobile device. Once the floor plan is complete, Magicplan allows material and cost estimate generations, placement of 3D models, and virtual tours.|
|Nike SNKRS||Customers can measure the size, fit, and volume of their feet and get highly customized recommendations on what product suits them best, while trying them on in augmented reality.|
Augmented reality software is almost always customized according to each retailer’s requirements, and can be developed in-house or by a digital agency. We’ll get into that in more detail in the following section.
How you can roll out an augmented reality experience for your customers
Most augmented reality apps are custom created either in-house, or by creative agencies. As a retail business owner, however, you need to consider several aspects before you make an investment in the development and marketing of your augmented reality app.
Here’s how you can provide an immersive augmented reality experience for your customers:
Step 1: Know your platform
If you want to create an AR app for your retail business, the first step is to know about the platforms for development, so that you can be hands-on in the entire development process. Here’s what you need to know:
- The two most popular platforms for AR development are Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit.
- If you’d like to develop for AR headsets like Microsoft’s Hololens and Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition 2, you need to know the basics of their respective platforms. The “buildwagon” library is one such example.
- Newer technologies such as Mozilla’s WebXR eliminate the need for an app installation and work within the user’s phone browser. Blippar is another such platform.
This will set the stage for you to take informed decisions later on in the development process.
Step 2 : Design the experience
This step will make or break your entire augmented reality initiative.
Designing your customer’s experience in the application comprises of carefully selecting the elements that you would like to build into the app for your customers will use. Here are some tips:
- Don’t go too trigger happy on features, because performance will be compromised.
- Focus almost entirely on the customer experience, and the quality of the overlay. The more granular it is, the better your products and inventory will render on your customer’s phones.
- Keep the interface and navigation as clutter-free as possible.
Remember that no developer will understand the preferences of your customer as much as you will, and the more involved you are in your immersive customer experience, the more likely your app is to succeed.
Step 3: Hire the right developer
This is when you turn your vision into reality.
You can either use freelancers or creative agencies for the development and testing aspects. Either way, hiring the wrong developer will cost you your entire investment—and besides ending up with a bad investment and an unpopular app, your retail brand will also receive negative feedback in your customer community. You cannot afford that in the age of social media.
Ensure every feature of the app is thoroughly stress-tested and fully functional in its pre-release version. Remember to be completely involved in every step of the project; if you employ an IT manager, have them monitor the development and testing very closely for both Android and iOS versions.
Pro tip: Try to include social sharing options and fun or interactive elements in the app as much as possible. This improves the chances of the app becoming popular and making the returns viable enough for your investment.
Step 4: Market aggressively
Plan your launch carefully—preferably around a special occasion or widely followed event. It helps if you’re connected to an influencer who can promote the app and create what is known as a “microtrend.”
If you can afford it, go with a good public relations agency and ensure that you plan for the long haul by spreading your marketing budget over six months to a year. This improves the chances of your app’s success.
Why augmented reality in retail is important for your business
Customer experience is a major driver of all purchase decisions today.
In several hyper-competitive industries that are increasingly adopting technology for its millennial buyers, a bored customer is a lost customer. From fashion to furniture, augmented reality technologies are becoming less of an “experience bonus” and more of a customer expectation.
A February 2019 Gartner research report (available to Gartner clients only ) states that 46% of retailers will be planning to implement virtual reality and augmented reality technologies in their businesses to meet customer experience expectations within the next two years. It also predicts that 100 million customers will shop using augmented reality, both in-store and online, by 2020.
The fact that the overall market is expected to reach $35.22 billion by 2022, reinforces the claims by industry experts of AR being a radical transformation of the retail industry. Most retailers are focusing on leveraging the technology to drive customer engagement and attract more footfall.
Enhancing the customer experience is at the forefront of the brick and mortar retail transformation. The utilities of AR in the in-store experience for a customer can be many and varied, from adding virtual space and shelves where there is a lack of physical space or in-store shelves, to displaying more stock and variety than can be normally fit into limited shelf space.
AR is just one of the areas where technology is transforming retail businesses at a scorching pace. Every facet of the industry, from supply chain management to point-of-sale billing, and frominventory to online customer experience, is being bettered with the implementation of software. If you’re a retail business owner, be sure to check out our retail software category page for the solution that fits your business just right.