Not so long from now. There is an eerie quietness in the retail store. Almost all the customers are wearing identical glasses and head sets, slowly walking through the aisles like humanoid robots. No, it’s not a new episode of Star Trek in the making – this is Augmented Reality (AR) in action. Retailers are now experimenting with AR to get customers back in the stores.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality is the practice of augmenting a real-time direct or indirect view of the physical world with virtual information 1. Scholz and Smith (2016) describe the practice of AR as: “Marketers layering digital information (e.g., text, pictures, and videos) over objects and spaces in the physical world (e.g., product packaging, advertisements, or street scenes). And consumers experiencing these hybridized realities via digital screens (e.g., smart phones or video installations) or projections (e.g., holograms)”.
AR can also be explained as the co-existence of virtual and real in the same space, as well as the interactive alignment and mutual registration of computer generated sources with physical reality 2.
Scholz and Smith (2016) have identified the five ingredients of AR:
- AR content – is virtual information that is often perceived by consumers through digital devices (e.g., smart phones, large-screen AR installations);
- Users – are the people who directly experience an AR layer. Users can share the same physical space. For example, if a screen displays an augmented view of the street behind a bus stop (e.g., bogus window paradigm). Or they may view the same AR layer while dispersed across different locations – for example, when readers of a magazine access the AR content of an active print;
- Bystanders – are people who do not experience an augmentation themselves but instead observe a user’s actions either directly – by sharing the same physical space – or indirectly – by viewing content (e.g., images) that a user has generated during his or her augmented experience. Bystanders can affect users’ willingness to engage in AR experiences because they form the social context of the experience;
- Targets – are entities in the physical world that are augmented with digital information. In many cases, targets are objects; for example, a marketer might digitally overlay a brand narrative or ingredient information on product packing. Targets may also be people – for example magic mirrors in fitting rooms that superimpose digital images of their merchandise over live images of customers;
- Background – those objects and ambient conditions that share the same physical space as the target, but that are not augmented in this particular AR layer.
AR has the potential to be a life-changing technology application. In a recent interview by Bloomberg, CEO Tim Cook of Apple said: “We’ll all have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.” What is the value of AR for the retailer?
Augmented Reality in retail
AR can help Bricks and Mortar retailers to let their customers enjoy their shopping experience and come back for more. Shauna Heller writing in Media Leaders propose that retailers offer headsets for people to wear while in their stores, to guide people through the store with pop-up characters, animations, or even a virtual assistant right through the visor popping up as people walk around. According to Augment.com, AR helps in the following ways to stop buyer uncertainty:
- Proximity, presence, and interaction – a customer who is shopping for home furnishings can launch models of a bed or lamp to see how the item would actually look and fit (to scale), rather than playing a guessing game. AR advocates for purchases with more certainty and satisfaction.
- Modify or customize selections – Augmented Reality makes it easy for consumers to explore their options and make personalized modifications.
- Visualize or understand products and features – a customer must be able to understand and visualize how a product works and functions. AR augment sophisticated demonstrations that make it easier for customers to visualize and understand the intricate features of a product before they purchase.
AR marketing campaigns open new possibilities for brands to engage and interact with consumers, especially those from social media generations. Yaoyuneyong 3, et al found that AR is “immersive, persuasive and powerful” and the two benefits of AR marketing that they’d identified are:
- Enhancing communication by engaging and increasing consumers’ level of immersion and
- Improving sales strategy and sales processes.
Also, augmented reality can make a difference to the shopping experience for both online and offline retail customers.
After all, it took a game like Pokémon GO and millions of people with smartphones a couple of years ago to bring Augmented Reality under the spotlight. However, the real value of AR is not just for the entertainment of its users, but also as a dynamic marketing tool for retailers.
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1 Scholz, J. and Smith, A.N. 2016. Augmented reality: Designing immersive experiences that maximize consumer engagement, Business Horizons, 59(2):149-161.
2 Javornik, A. 2016. Augmented reality: Research agenda for studying the impact of its media characteristics on consumer behaviour, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 30:252-261.
3 Yaoyuneyong, G., Foster, J., Johnson, E. and Johnson, D. 2016. Augmented Reality Marketing: Consumer Preferences and Attitudes Toward Hypermedia Print Ads, Journal of Interactive Advertising, 16(1):16-30.