Augmented reality (AR) retail campaigns can be executed in and out-of-store, enriching customer experience in several ways, including virtual dressing rooms, magic mirrors, bogus windows, and via the most accessible tech of all — smartphones, owned by more than 2.5 billion of the global population.
But as quality AR content can become costly, retailers often question if the new tech hype can offer anything other than short-lived entertainment? So to start off the examples, here are some benefits that strategic AR placement can provide to retailers*:
- Increase conversions
- Reduce returns
- Drive footfall to brick and mortar stores (or increase online sales instead)
- Facilitate consumer curiosity about certain products
- Educate customers about products
- Support customer purchasing decisions
- Encourage further interaction with the brand
- Offer experiences that shoppers can share on social media (word-of-mouth online)
- Gather information on consumer preferences
- Provide a higher level of service
- Build customer loyalty
If you get a feeling that any of the above could be good for your business, let’s have a look at some scenarios where augmented reality can add value to your customer sales journey, be it before or after the purchase. You know by heart that your business goals for each of these touchpoints vary. Another notion you should keep in mind is that the AR pit stops have to be tailored accordingly.
Augmented reality for online shopping
Most people tend to research products online during their pre-purchase deliberations, and it’s not just my biased opinion. In fact, research reveals that eight out of 10 internet users utilize online platforms for searching for information about products and services, and almost 70% shop on the net. The same number (80%) use mobiles for their internet consumption, so it is a no-brainer that smartphones are the go-to device for augmented reality content. As internet access and adoption are rapidly increasing worldwide, the number of digital buyers keeps climbing every year, you can explore a compilation of online shopping statistics here.
1. Color matching in augmented reality
An excellent AR use case that can sway a consumer in moving from product consideration to purchase stage comes from Dulux Paint Expert: Decorators. The company’s augmented reality app allows people to try out various paint colors on their walls. Although created as a B2B tool, AR has excellent visualization features for tradespeople to use for agreeing on final paint jobs with their clients. Augmented reality offers a platform for DIY renovation enthusiasts to make better informed choices.
2. Large object visualization at home
Below is a video compilation of AR-powered furniture and electronics shopping online. Blurring the lines between the consideration stage and point-of-sale decision making, retailers can use augmented reality to educate customers about their products or take another step back, helping shoppers decide if they should explore specific products at all.
For example, before pitching certain flat-screen TVs to someone who is looking up the product, retailers could let people measure what size would look best on their wall or fit on their TV cabinet. Once they decide on the size, the app could narrow down to concrete products, reducing irrelevant options, and helping customers make a purchase decision.
The same educational strategy applies to furniture. AR can aid shoppers in visualizing how a certain-size chair, sofa, or wardrobe would fit into their homes. And it helps share ideas if the shopper is not the only decision-maker in the household or would appreciate input from their interior savvy friend.
AR features are not designed to simply sell here. Being transparent and open about the products in detail may assure a potential customer to step back. AR increases decision comfort regardless if the customer commits to buying from you.
But a quick purchase is by no means better than one that isn’t thoroughly considered. Retailers who provide e-commerce options know that online shopping comes with its own set of challenges as they look to address high return rates, shopping cart abandonment, and webroomers, who browse products online but shop offline.
Interestingly, Eurostat found in 2018 that 70% of people who choose not to buy online, all agree that they prefer to explore a product in real life, which makes them feel more comfortable with their purchase decision. Well, as you gathered from the previous examples, augmented reality seems pretty much designed to address this concern.
3. Try as you buy with augmented reality
While for some businesses driving footfall to their physical stores is key, Sephora has delivered a notable example of doing the opposite. Their app’s augmented reality functionality helps to make informed choices online, assuring that a visit to a physical store is not needed. How? Well, imagine you need lipstick and don’t know what shade to pick. Thanks to its facial recognition tech, Sephora allows a person to try out different shades on their face in real-time, compare and share looks, as well as complete the purchase.
Augmented reality for in-store customer experiences
When it comes to in-store augmented reality features, one of the first things that come to mind is magic mirrors. This works perfectly for clothing retailers. Although to those in the tech-bubble, Kinect may seem like an old-school solution, people love placing themselves in AR scenarios, and most bypassers usually haven’t experienced it.
4. Magic mirror to entice customers
A cool magic mirror example is below by Timberland. The brand placed a magic mirror outside its store, allowing people to try on clothing digitally. This is an excellent idea for increasing footfall when launching new ranges or driving seasonal sales. However, a drawback with magic mirrors is that it does require a person to interact with it publicly, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
5. Mundane products get noticed with AR
Augmented reality doesn’t necessarily have to push your new and trendy stuff. A lucrative goal for an AR campaign could be to drive people to products that are neglected. An idea could be to set up a scavenger or treasure hunt across your store, with AR markers placed by the products that you want to upsell. Those who complete the augmented reality hunt can get a discount on their purchase. Below is an example of how this may look in a shopping mall, but let’s remember that people love such games because, relatively recently, we went through the Pokémon GO craze.
6. Bring customers back with AR takeaway content
For the next example, let’s imagine you own an electronics store. Lots of people buy technologies online these days, so would it be a good idea to send an undecided customer home from your physical store to rethink their purchase without sealing the deal? Absolutely!
But what your store could do differently, is send them home with an augmented reality marker or booklet, which, when scanned, would retrieve a 3D model of the considered product with all vital information, as well as an option to place it in a customer’s home. This way, you provide a confused shopper with invaluable information, you are helpful, you build trust. You cannot force them to buy from you, but if they do end up buying the product, they will most likely do so from you, because of the extra effort you’ve gone through.
To prove it works, all we have to do is look at the B2B sector, where this method is applied quite extensively. Sometimes products may be so large that they cannot be physically showed off in a meeting or at an exhibition. So AR collateral can often be given to potential buyers to consider if the product is right for them.
An example here from Pipelife Latvia. The company manufactures plastic piping systems for urban water circulation, drainage, gas, etc. The company is one of the leading providers globally, but as they travel across borders to talk with potential clients, they cannot possibly bring their product along.
7. Make your brand stand out at third-party retailer stores
In another scenario, you do not own a store, but instead, have your products distributed by other retailers. This means that you cannot control how much a shop assistant knows about your product or if they recommend it against a competitor. It is where augmented reality comes into the picture.
It is the exact business model of Philips and we teamed up with the company to boost customer engagement with their offer. We created wobblers that were set alongside their products in a large electronics store and three benefits came from this approach:
- Shoppers who didn’t want to or for some reason couldn’t interact with customer service agents were able to get extra information on products by scanning the wobblers
- Customer assistants were able to learn about the products by exploring the wobblers, becoming well-informed about Philips products
- Shop assistants were able to use augmented reality as an icebreaker with shoppers and were more likely to choose to showcase a Philips product over another.
Augmented reality for building customer loyalty
Regardless if a person buys from you online or offline, as a retailer, you will want to see them come back again or become a brand ambassador. I see much more value and immense potential in building brand loyalty post-purchase by providing interactive content that customers can explore at home. More and more businesses are waking up to the possibility of augmented reality as a way to keep the conversation going with their customers, as well as offering solutions that add value to people post-purchase.
If we are looking at the FMCG sector, AR packaging offers a space for hosting additional information such as recipes, instructions, rewards, and more. The extra content can also be based around entertainment, and here I love how brands utilize kids’ cereal boxes, adding AR games to the packaging. Many companies are showcasing some great storytelling through their AR packaging. Still, the goal should always be to provide value and feature content that either educates, explains, inspires, or entertains. If you are looking to increase sales, you will need to communicate about the AR experience in-store effectively, but still, the content must be worth your shoppers’ time. And if it so, the word will spread naturally and beat any creative in a shop.
8. Associate your brand with positive emotion
A very cool entertainment example from the Overly app is a project we delivered during the run-up to Eurovision 2019. We teamed up with an Estonian dairy manufacturer, Tere Piim, and augmented their product packaging. Exclusive content of Eurovision hopefuls’ performances and messages in 3D could be accessed by scanning the brand’s milk packaging. The project exceeded expectations, garnering 47,300 views. It generated great brand recognition post-purchase as fans took to sharing their AR experiences on social media. And once the social was heating up, more people wanted to experience our AR offer firsthand. As a result, the company saw an increase in purchases as well.
9. Go extra mile with augmented reality instructions
On a more practical side, an example of effective use of instructions comes from Hyundai. The company has developed a digital owner’s manual that shows you how to fix your car. All you need to do is hold up your phone, and the digital guide will tell you what to do. To make such self-service manuals and instructions high quality and mainstream, there is still some work to do on the AR tech. But I also see how these manuals are especially adding value to retailers who have products but don’t have brand stores. It is a way to converse with customers and show how a brand communicates independently from its distributor.
10. Use AR to interactively upsell
Last but not least is upselling. This is something that is still developing, but I believe it has enormous potential if seized correctly. Research has shown that engaging with interactive digital objects boosts customer engagement as well as secures purchase intention. We see suggestions in online retail stores currently, if we buy books or fitness equipment or clothing. I think nothing would do a better job than augmented reality to help people imagine if they need particular sunglasses to go with their new earrings. Or the app could check in what capsules you need for your new coffee machine, etc. Options are endless.
Here is a simple example where you can sort of spot both – you have recipes, bet recipes upsell other products, encouraging people to try out Bombay Sapphire cocktails.
Augmented reality is still an emerging technology, and while the above examples are all possible today, the list is not exhaustive. As technology develops, more options for taking customer experiences to new heights and realities will be available. I hope though that this article serves as an inspiration for things that retailers can do today, to engage with their audience more effectively and derive the long-term benefits I outlined at the start.
If you have anything to add or any questions, leave a comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn.