Augmented reality (AR) apps deliver rich, highly interactive, two-way experiences that visually engage customers and extend products and services to fingertip access, both inside and outside the store. Central to AR apps is the fact that they're tailor-made for mobile devices. Houzz reports that mobile users who engage AR are 11 times more likely to purchase and spend 2.7 times more time in the app.
Whether virtually walking around furniture at Lowe’s to pick out the right fabric or trying on clothes at Gap, we're all kids at heart, and AR shopping experiences are lots of fun. Indeed, research shows that nearly 70 percent of consumers expect retailers to offer an AR experience, and a whopping 61 percent of consumers like shopping at stores that offer some kind of AR functionality vs. stores that do not.
Analysts predict a rapid growth for the entire AR apps and services market, projected to go from $ 2.4 billion in 2016 to $61 billion by 2023.
If thinking about creating and deploying AR apps to drive sales, increase customer retention and drive a great customer experience, here are six essentials to consider:
- Technology: AR apps must connect with other key enterprise systems, and that requires a deep expertise in a variety of mobile and cloud technologies. This includes underlying hardware infrastructures and integration into back-office and core business processes already in place; plus, the related software to facilitate the services. AR applications also need to be extremely pliable. They must be able to accommodate multiple and different campaigns and be able to scale up or down as demands or campaigns dictate. Search for technology vendors that have core expertise in the above, or better, find a partner who can provide one-stop shop capabilities to handle most if not all AR integration challenges.
- Flexibility: Look to create an AR solution that's flexible enough to meet multiple demographics. While millennials will naturally engage with AR apps, older demographics tend to be intimidated from using newer technologies. Consider incorporating an audio/voice recognition application that enables an older demographic to speak commands vs. having only the ability to interact with the application where it requires the customer to manipulate the experience on their own.
- Data Analytics: AR solutions should capture deep analytics and data that can inform the next campaign or spur new ideas for more efficient and targeted engagement. Retailers are discovering that AR is a strong mechanism for driving impulse purchasing, as 72 percent of AR users say they purchased merchandise they didn’t plan to buy! AR apps make customers happily spend more time on-site or in-store interacting with products. As such, AR can deliver insight into customer behavior that was simply not possible prior: How long did the customer engage the AR app? Which demographic used it most? Which touchpoints within the app drive the most consumer activity? How and when does the customer make an impulse purchase? Track those entire cycles, then take that data to deliver even more engaging solutions/campaigns.
- Personalized: When thinking about strategies that keep shoppers on your site/store and away from Amazon.com, paramount is creating AR experiences that are personalized to users. Key to this is coupling AR with predictive analytics. While AR experiences are fun, as we all know the customer may not be interested in a shirt right now, and instead may be looking for shorts. Off to Amazon they go. Instead, by coupling AR with artificial intelligence-driven experiences and analytics, companies can better engage the user with personalized campaigns that drive usage and impulse purchases.
- Ubiquitous: The AR app should generate additional revenues to justify the expense in building it! Therefore, get creative and start thinking about virtual showrooms, location-based offers, and content-based AR. AR apps can also be embedded into partner sites and digital marketing, creating instant new revenue channels. That’s truly connecting with customers anytime, anywhere! Think hard about how, when and where your AR apps can be turned into instant and ubiquitous e-commerce locations or impulse buy mechanisms.
- Content Still King: AR, when coupled with great content, creates a powerful combination that draws a very captive audience into your products and brand. It’s also important to keep in mind that content used within AR can be protected using blockchain, mitigating piracy and asset protection concerns.
Finally, be careful when partnering with an AR designer/integrator. Don’t be enamored by some new buzzwords which can cause you to commit to a nightmare scenario of getting locked into the wrong core technologies and services that ultimately limit flexibility and scalability. Ask first, "what are we looking to accomplish?" and “what customer behavior are we trying to drive?’’ vs. "what technologies should we use?" Instead of the technology driving you, use the technology to drive your business!
Related story: Pottery Barn Debuts Augmented Reality Shopping App