Augmented reality (AR) has come a long way from just a pie-in-the-sky idea to being absorbed by leading retail brands, be it in-store or in the eCommerce space. Retailers and inventive brands are looking to adopt immersive digital methods to drive customer engagement, increase their revenue, and improve brand awareness and loyalty.
The augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) market amounted to a forecast of 18.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and is expected to expand drastically in the coming years. – Statista
With such tremendous potential, retail businesses must envision adopting these technologies which will also empower businesses to develop and enhance their financial prospects.
Augmented reality is a key transformation influencing offline customer engagement that brands and retailers are actualizing to digitize the customer experience. Execution of AR and VR in retail helps retailers and customers to always stay connected to deliver an unmatched customer experience.
This digital transformation is now making a gigantic move to determine how retailers conduct business. The buzzword Augmented Reality has risen to the top progressively, but not everyone is sure about exactly what AR is and why it is the next big thing in customer engagement.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that integrates the real and virtual world with information through digital media. These digital media might be videos, 3D models, or other formats that are superimposed continuously by the view of the camera on our smartphones, PCs, or tablets. In this way, the virtual and real world get merged on the screens of our devices.
While this may appear as revolutionary, the technology goes way back to 1962 when cinematographer, Morton Heilig, released Sensorama, a simulator with visual, sound, vibration, and smell.
Tom Caudell, a researcher for Boeing, coined the term Augmented Reality in the year 1990. Further, in the year 1992, Louis Rosenberg developed the first immersive augmented reality system for the US Air Force – the heads-up display in fighter jets – for enhancing human performance. Here, symbols are presented in a transparent glass stream, which takes away the distraction of looking at gauges, therefore, allowing pilots to aim their weapons better.
This heads-up display was further used in several sectors – automobiles, travel, medicine, education, retail, and e-commerce, to name a few.
It’s not astonishing that AR technology is getting more and more accessible. AR uses digital designs and virtual objects to create real-time scenes from the real world. It is designed to augment (that includes sounds, graphics, and touch) to improve user experience. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and various other emerging tech goliaths have invested vigorously in AR technology.
Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
Often Augmented reality (AR) is confused by virtual reality. But they are very different from one another. Let’s look at the differences between these two technologies.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are reverse reflections of one another, given that each has a different purpose of fulfilling for the user.
Both the technologies include presenting the user with a computer-generated environment that can be controlled and collaborated using natural and intuitive moments. They are now turning one’s head to pivot the view instead of moving the mouse.
The other points of differentiation are:
Augmented reality adds virtual components such as digital images or visuals, vibrations, or sensations (sound and smell) as a new layer of interaction with the actual physical world. On the other hand, virtual reality builds a computer-generated world and drives it.
A user experiences Virtual Reality via either a head-mounted or a hand-held controller. This equipment allows users to control and navigate their actions in a simulated environment, which is far-fetched from the real world. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is readily employed in mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. It infuses the real world with the digital world by showing how both worlds intersect and interact.
Augmented reality doesn’t require goggles to experience the real world. Rather than venturing into the environment, the augmented pictures come alive in your environment. You experience them in front of your eyes in a natural way. Whereas, with virtual reality, you need to wear goggles to experience the environment.
How Net Solutions Created a Virtual Mobile Experience for Retail Stores via AR
One of our AR ventures was to provide a virtual mobile experience to the customers within retail stores by assisting them in the buying process. Here, customers were provided with real-time information such as description, price, and product location as they moved inside the store. They were also provided with other products as alternatives.
Identifying the Need
With supermarkets being massive, maneuvering through can be quite a daunting task. Also, having a personal customer care executive to guide the customer all the way is not much of a possibility, given the massive walk-ins. And, with many products at the display, they may get easily distracted and end up buying what is not needed. When that is the case, creating a virtual shopping experience via a mobile device would be more convenient and rewarding.
We built a Retail AR app, which was not only interactive but also empowered customers to find what they were seeking. In other words, it assisted them in making an informed choice and also helped retailers position their products well.
The following features were incorporated into the app:
- Guiding the customer to a specific department.
- Guiding the customer to a recommended product.
- Empowering store owners to add routes for customers searching for a department or a relevant product.
We built the Retail AR app using the Swift language, which we earlier employed in the Apple ARKit iOS framework for marking the positions of products and for creating navigation path arrows.
The Virtual and Real-World Convergence in the Retail Environment
Our AR retail app-enabled retailers to encourage both prospective and existing customers to shop in-store rather than online. Further, through this virtual and real-world convergence, retailers could track and notify their customers for any deals – current or upcoming.
For example, letting them know that the cereal that they were looking for is now available, that there is a special offer on dairy products four aisles away, and guiding them step-by-step to the exact aisle where they can pick the item.
Engaging Customers In-Store
Through this app, retailers can connect with customers in real-time by offering them what they are looking for, with the right information and tools, to help them make an informed decision. For example, mapping the navigation to the products customers are looking for and notifying the customer of deals and special offers.
Marked Increase in Revenue
Another benefit of the app is that with such a form of personalization and customer empowerment, retailers would be able to see a marked shift in revenue, on an upswing. By tapping customers’ needs and investing in gen-next technology (AR), customer engagement would not only be optimal, but they would also be motivated to purchase more.
Saves on Time
With the AR retail app, customers can locate the products and departments seamlessly, which not only saves their time and energy but also enables them to make a quick buying decision. Also, retailers would end up having more and more repeat customers, since they would like to shop at an outlet, which is convenient, fast, and hassle-free.
Our retail AR app, which enables customers to make a quick buy, stands to benefit retailers in another aspect as well. There is a significantly lesser workforce required, as the app takes precedence.
Customers don’t have to depend on staff members and the AR app acts as a personal assistant for them. The app directs them to the products they are looking for, offering other alternatives if necessary, and alerting them of special offers in-house. Thus, this technology leads to a significant cost reduction in-store, a win-win for the retailer.
Promising to reinvent the shopping experience for greater convenience and efficiency, Augmented Reality offers exceptional results for businesses. Retailers can now create a true omnichannel experience for their customers. Not only does it allow users to access the complete inventory of products in the store, but with augmented reality on the rise, the in-store experience is no longer limited to any type of physical restraint.
As indicated above in this article, this interaction based experience is equally rewarding for both the retailers as well as the customers. Therefore, retailers must increasingly leverage the power of Augmented Reality for their stores to enrich their customer relationships.