Augmenting the In-Store Experience isn’t “shiny” in 2017...it’s critical

In May 2016, TechCrunch warned that augmented reality (AR) was losing its “cool factor.” Producing visually stunning AR experiences, the article suggested, was no longer the determining factor in netting investor dollars. The argument wasn’t that the technology was fading, but instead that consumer demands of AR technology were evolving: from viewing AR as the province of Snapchat face filters (“FunTech”) to a tool for visualizing how a product might fit into his or her life (a practical experience).

One investor asked that AR companies “stop showing me dragons...yes, it’s cool the first time you see it. By the twentieth dragon it gets pretty old. Show me something useful in [AR]. That’s a lot cooler.”

That sentiment has caught on in innovation circles within the retail community. A little over a year ago, “augmented reality” would essentially be synonymous with “Pokemon Go.” However, the advent of experience-focused shopping has led digital-savvy retailers to pursue new means of engaging customers (really “brand users”). For many, AR provides a significant pathway to increased engagement, blending the physical and digital shopping experiences. 

Today, Wayfair customers can see how a piece of furniture would look in their living room (via WayfairView). LEGO lovers can see what a set looks like when it’s built (via in-store AR-powered kiosks). And Converse fans are able to virtually try on a pair of shoes to see how they would look from the comfort of their own homes. 

Treating AR as a shiny object is a missed opportunity, especially for retailers. If, per Digital Commerce 360, 68% of retailers have made delivering personalized experiences a priority, there should be a roster spot for AR. Here’s why:

Building Digital Bridges to the Brick-and-Mortar Experience Creates Competitive Advantages

AR can serve as an extension of the in-store experience - an always-on channel in the offline world. The technology allows consumers to carry the in-store experience home. Similar to how the internet revolutionized how consumers make purchases, and then again with the release of smartphones, tablets and better mobility, AR enables products to remain top-of-mind with greater frequency. While some retailers underestimated the impact of the internet on their businesses, now is the time for them to take AR’s potential impact seriously.

AR Shows Customers What the Future Looks Like, and Moves Them Through the Funnel

Shopping is a full-contact sport, where consumers expect differentiated and true-to-brand, omnichannel experiences. Branded stimuli are pervasive. Consumers are bombarded with too much content from too many companies in too many places. Finding ways to extend brand presence by providing value beyond the transaction will be key to building affinity. AR provides retailers with the opportunity to offer customers active brand engagement - a window into their future homes and selves. Sparking consumer interest with increased and regular engagement can push consumers to act. 

Although the benefits of using AR in retail are clear, there needs to be a distinction between the applications used to enhance in-store and in-home use cases. For example, eCommerce-oriented experiences need to not only be practical, but also shareable and engaging (not necessarily fun, but worthy of your recommendation to a friend). In-store, AR technologies need to lean towards usability and be able to effectively point customers to the right products. While all AR applications should be practical and engaging, the slight nuances between the use cases should be kept in mind when creating AR-based experiences.  

Effectively leveraging AR technologies will be a key ingredient in creating the connected retail ecosystem of the future. At TechNexus, we’ve had the opportunity to partner with and learn from startups that are building AR technologies that extend enterprise retail partner companies’ brands and transform the in-store experience.

If your company is developing an AR strategy, or if your team has deployed AR applications in-store or mobilly, or if you are simply interested in learning more about the technologies that our team is exploring and supporting, we would love to hear from you!