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AR – Not just a way to catch ‘em all

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Think on your feet. I say “augmented reality”; you think: what?

*Rocks back and forth* Please don’t say Pokémon GO. Please don’t say Pokémon GO.

I will admit that Pokémon GO is the token example of augmented reality. It is everywhere. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, “augmented reality,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even if we have used AR, most of us are unaware of the term’s actual implications. So, here is a formal definition from a self-proclaimed AR expert: augmented reality takes a real-world environment and integrates computer-generated graphics, sound or video into it. Essentially, it enhances the physical environment we look at visually or audibly. Not to be confused with virtual reality, which is an entirely computer-generated environment – unlike AR, VR is 100% simulated.

So, is that Squirtle really there? Right in front of you? It depends how delusional you are – but yes, because of augmented reality, it is. Alas, AR isn’t all fun and Pokémon GO games.

What if I told you that the retail and e-commerce industries are set to reap the benefits of augmented reality and that some companies already have? Please imagine: it’s pouring outside, there is a terrible tropical storm hitting as you get this unyielding temptation to buy a pair of Converse. You must shop, but you hate driving in the rain and there happens to be a really good episode of Criminal Minds on. Of course, you could shop online, but shopping online hinders your ability to exercise your God-given right of personal vanity to see what the shoes would actually look like on you. The shoes are $50, but they are so YOU. You must have them. Normally, to avoid buyer’s remorse, this is a dead end. But you happen to be using Converse’s Sample app to shop, so you select that blessed pair from the app’s catalogue, point your camera at your feet, and by AR sorcery, there the shoes are, on your feet, on your phone. Converse’s Sample app has been around for a few years, but this idea is the new frontier and new norm for retailers across the board.

The mayhem doesn’t stop at clothing. As if we needed more of an addiction, IKEA gives its customers the ability to see what a desired piece of furniture or décor looks like using the camera function on their smartphone in real-time through its AR catalogue app. The app even takes sizing into consideration so that shoppers can get an accurate aesthetic feel for what the room will look like pieced together. The same goes for choosing paint colors through stores like Home Depot (PS: There IS a difference between egg shell and white). No matter how you look at it, AR has crept into our daily lives in more ways than one.

Why Does Retail AR Matter?

Present-day consumers are psychopaths. And whether you like it or not, there is a 100% chance that you’re one of them. The digital transformation has literally created a plethora of impatient, commodity-hungry monsters. Personally, I would love to spend a day in an Amazon customer service representative’s shoes:

“Excuse me, I ordered the complete set of Harry Potter movies 48 hours ago. It has now been 49. According to your two-day shipping you promised, I should have been watching the Sorcerer’s Stone by now.” Refund ensues.

Source: used under CC license.

The options that retailers have implemented are pretty incredible when you look at it from an aerial view. Amazon offers two-day shipping, our phones enable us to literally press a button a single time to purchase an item via social media, browser or application, and now augmented reality makes it possible to successfully shop not only in your own home, but in physical stores as well.  These days, retailers of all calibers are trying to find the secret sauce as to what is working and what is not amidst this digital revolution. And the key for any sales conversion or adequate customer experience doesn’t just rely on the actual product being sold anymore, but the customer’s interaction with the process and the journey taken to get to the ultimate purchase.

The competition for the best shopping experience is fierce, and with the rise of augmented reality and those types of abilities becoming almost mandated for current consumers, companies – both AR and retailers – can’t afford to be shy when promoting what they have to offer. The tone of your tech needs to be loud, clear and different while relating back to the customer in whatever way possible. That is, after all, the end goal of providing that kind of service, right?

AR offers even more convenience that can sometimes make or break that ultimate decision. Are you going to buy a lone rug that you see on your screen with a white background and measly zoom feature (*scoffs*), or are you going to buy the one that you have seen with your own eyes complete the room – color/size/style-wise?

In this case, AR is a win-win – retailers benefit from the brand awareness and increased conversions, and we as consumers benefit from the convenience and visualization that we get for those important purchasing decisions.

The only loser may just be your bank account.

An image of PAN's Brand Experience Report on the Potentials and pitfalls of AI for marketers

In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.