Augmented reality is influencing sales for brands retailers across the globe, as it transforms brick-and-mortar shopping into an exciting and informative experience for consumers.
Different from virtual reality, augmented weaves the virtual world with the physical world as it superimposes images or information over views of the actual real world. Despite its popularity among gamers (Pokémon Go!, for one), the retail industry has seen a growing number of AR installments in stores in recent years. And for good reason. At the end of 2016, Retail Perceptions published data revealing that 40% of consumers would be more likely to buy a product if they could experience it through AR first, while 61% of shoppers preferred retailers with in-store AR experiences.
AR holds a lot of promise for both brands and retailers. Not only is it an eye-catching marketing tool that gives consumers a new way to experience products, it also has the potential to be a tool for store associates that allows them to engage with consumers on a deeper level—both of which keep shoppers browsing for longer and, ideally, spending more.
AR Makes Marketing Magic
Today's in-store shopper wants more than a special pricing sticker: they come to the store for an experience. AR has the potential to introduce passers-by to brand mascots and new product features.
Richard Corps, the CEO of augmented reality firm Ads Reality, recalls the success of its activation with Microsoft to promote the release of the newest Halo game at UK-based GAME stores. In this particular activation, windows equipped with AR technology displayed a virtual overlay of Master Chief, a character from the game, so that it looked like he was actually inside the store. "We saw an 18% increase in footfall in the stores that had those AR windows," Corps says. "And preorders were up 22%."
Corps explains that while content needs to be relevant to the brands and products sold in the store, it also should be unique to its surroundings and exciting to engage with or watch and maybe even unusual to see. This may look like favorite characters or brand mascots coming to life from product packaging or allowing shoppers to virtually apply nail polish. Once brands and retailers have agreed on content, Corps says it's essential to update it regularly. Otherwise, consumers get bored.
AR is an exciting way to let consumers play with products, but it's not as trivial as it may sound. Playing with the AR technology impacts how much time shoppers spend in a store and this holds the promise of a bigger basket size. Rebecca Pahle, a shopper who attended the opening of Sephora's new Herald Square location in New York, told the New York Times of the store's AR offerings: "It is easy to kill time, play around with things and spend more money than I should."
AR Plus a Human Touch Is the Magic Formula
While the possibilities of AR—especially the potential they offer around sales and foot traffic—are exciting, the technology alone doesn't necessarily solidify a sale. AR activations can increase traffic in stores and keep shoppers engaged, but ultimately it's up to store employees to connect with the customer to ensure a sale. It's a symbiotic relationship. AR relies on in-store associates to introduce consumers to the technology, while AR equips associates with knowledge and more time to engage with shoppers.
"[AR] is a very powerful tool for the store staff to be able to use to educate and inform and ultimately help sales," Corps says. For example, if sales associates are given phones or allowed to use their own phones on the store floor, they can scan the item and virtual overlays containing product information and reviews will appear on the image scan and tell the associates product details. They can even enter a consumer's loyalty program information and see adjusted pricing based on the shopper's reward status.
AR can also help free up time for sales associates on the floor. When UNIQLO opened its fifth location in San Francisco's Union Square in 2012, the company introduced a “Magic Mirror" display that allows shoppers to see themselves in a variety of color options in whatever item they are trying on. So, instead of asking a sales associate to run to the store floor to retrieve different colors, shoppers can serve themselves and instantly see how a sweater will look in blue and in yellow in their mirror. This way, associates can remain on the floor to help other shoppers or even consult with the person in the dressing room without constantly running back and forth.
Even in its early adoptions, AR has proven to be a great tool for the retail industry. The technology changes the in-store experience, giving consumers a new reason to walk into physical stores and equipping associates with knowledge and time to help close a sale. As AR becomes more ubiquitous it promises to become a technology more retailers and brands experiment with—and one consumers come to expect when they walk into a store.