Augmented reality (AR) isn’t necessarily a new concept, but the recent rollout of Apple’s ARKit and the upcoming launch of Google’s ARCore has taken this technology to the next level, making it substantially more mainstream for every consumer and business across all industries. Similar to virtual reality’s (VR) impact on gaming/entertainment, AR’s use cases are endless. However, one industry in particular stands to reap the greatest benefits — retail. In fact, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, believes that AR will become as “key for retailers as having a website.”
From providing consumers with the ability to test and purchase furniture pieces to changing wall colors from the comfort of their couch, AR has the potential to completely transform the way we shop, offering an entirely new and unique retail experience. With the digital revolution fully underway, below are a few specific examples of how brands can leverage AR, as well as some tips to keep in mind when exploring this technology.
Offering a ‘Try Before You Buy’ Experience
Gone are the days of the “traditional” e-commerce model. Retailers would now be wise to begin virtualizing their product portfolios and catalogs to facilitate unparalleled shopping experiences and unique sales channels for their audiences. For example, when leveraging AR features, home furnishing retailers are now able to showcase their products both in a showroom and directly in the home of the consumer via mobile devices. App users also have the ability to virtually drop a new bed into their living room from their device, see how it fits in a space both dimensionally and aesthetically, and then change the item’s textures, patterns, color, etc. The implications on reducing buyer's remorse are boundless.
Reducing Brick-and-Mortar Investment
Traditionally, shopping has been an extremely visual and tangible process, with consumers needing not only to see an item in person, but also to feel it to get a sense of its texture and weight. The ability to physically see and feel products, however, requires retailers to stock all products in a physical location so that shoppers can view all available options while in-store.
With the incorporation of AR in retailers’ product catalogs, brands will be able to significantly reduce their investment in the total square footage of their brick-and-mortar stores, while still showcasing their entire portfolios. By virtualizing these products, retailers can display one bed frame, for example, and then digitally showcase the different heights, colors, etc., that are available for purchase all from the convenience of a mobile device.
So, it’s Time for Retailers to Dive in Head First, Right?
While retailers don’t want to be behind the curve when it comes to new tactics to drive their businesses forward, like AR, it’s important to take some time to think about the problem they need to solve and how this technology is going to enhance their underlying strategy. Are they looking for a means of increasing engagement with certain content within their marketing vehicles? Does AR enhance what would otherwise be a one-dimensional experience, subsequently driving a lift in KPIs that matter most to their department? Do they want to develop their AR app in-house or outsource the virtualization process?
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons. For example, companies can develop their own app independently, but this can be rather time consuming and costly. Instead, companies can work with an established AR and VR tech company that can guide them in their technology decisions while assisting in 3-D modeling and renderings to complete the virtualization process in a more cost-effective and timely manner.
Additional tips retailers should keep in mind when exploring AR integration include the following:
- Assess how big an impact AR will have on the business.
- Analyze multiple use cases, as this will determine and impact the investments in 3-D asset creation, like virtualizing a product catalog.
- Once committed, don’t doubt — innovate.
We anticipate AR having an extremely bright future, especially in the retail landscape. Echoing Cook’s sentiments, this technology has the potential to become a core component to every brand's business operations, as it helps break down visualization barriers and transform the e-commerce experience. ARKit and the upcoming ARCore kit prove that we've already succeeded in unfolding AR; now it’s time to fine-tune this technology to not only enhance retailers’ business and sales goals, but also improve the overall shopping journey for customers.
Jan-Hein Pullens is the COO and Co-Founder of roOomy, a company that offers 3-D modeling, rendering and virtual staging services and design apps.