Every business is a digital business. That is because every customer is now a digital customer. Nowhere is this more evident than in the retail arena, where shoppers have used social networking and mobility to transform their purchasing experiences. In response to the rise of the digital customer, retailers are looking to leverage digital technologies to drive new levels of customer engagement and competitive advantage. One area that holds promise is augmented reality.
With today’s proliferation of social networking and mobile applications, customers have non-stop access to more knowledge and more opinions than ever before. This information is shaping their preferences for products and services, as well as their expectations for personalized retail experiences. It is also upending the linear buying process. That traditional path to purchase—which begins with awareness and ends with purchase and loyalty—has lost its relevance for today’s customers. It is too slow, too static, and too generic for buyers who now perpetually find themselves in a non-stop, non-linear sales channel.
It’s not easy to meet the needs of this new breed of customer. In an “always-on” world, customers have the power to continually redefine the retail shopping experience they want to have. Their expectations are rising—and constantly evolving. They want to be enticed and engaged. They want digital content and digital options that are easily accessible 24/7. And they want a seamless experience, across multiple channels that enable them to search, compare and purchase products and services on their terms.
Even though in-store applications of augmented reality are powerful, their real potential is unleashed when they allow customers to experience virtual products in new environments. Product images have always been an important source for information when shopping online. But those images can only convey so much.
Print media has many advantages. It can be inspiring. It does not require any special hardware. And it can be distributed broadly. Print media does, however, have some drawbacks. It is static, does not invite interaction, is not easy to update, and does not facilitate a purchase in a seamless way. Augmented reality combines the advantages of the print and digital world and encourages the customer to delve ever deeper into the shopping journey.
An important, yet often overlooked, by-product of augmented reality is cost savings. For example, an augmented reality solution can save retail space by allowing customers to experience many different product variations without the retailer needing to have all styles and sizes on display. It can save employee time since customers can service themselves in a fun and interactive way. It can reduce the risk of returns. And it can even reduce the risk of products being damaged or stolen in the fitting room.
In the toy store example, customers (both parents and children) are more likely to make a purchase after experiencing the product via augmented reality. For fashion and automotive retailers, the use of augmented reality increases sales by making sure that customers find what they are looking for even if, for example, a desired color is not in stock. And for grocery retailers, augmented reality solutions can help customers find specific products in the store. This not only saves the shopper valuable time but increases the likelihood of making more sales.