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Making Augmented Reality Work in the Real World


Retail shopping image
In this digital age, technology has enabled smartphones to work just the way we want them to. These smartphones make our life a lot easier by bringing the advanced technology to us and help us to stay, constantly, connected to real-time information. This influx of technology into our daily life has made people expect reliable information and convenience from other service/product providers. Augmented Reality (AR) has enriched the real world by providing digital information and media. With the help of Augmented Reality, you can enrich the images, objects and, also, geographic locations, digitally, in the real world, with the digital content that is there in your mobile phone. Nowadays, Augmented Reality is no more to be experienced in science fiction movies, only. It has moved from the studios to the physical world and is making inroads into people’s life, through the smartphones. A recent research suggests that by 2018, 200 million people will be using Augmented Reality applications on their smartphones. So, what does this, exactly, mean?

Augmented Reality – Retailer’s Perception

Lets’s consider, Augmented Reality, in the retail context. It can be, either external facing or internal facing. External facing consumer applications can be as simple as displaying a video/photo carousel on scanning the product or can be as elaborate as taking the consumer through the purchase cycle, helping them to virtually visualize the product, engage with the product and purchase the product. Internal Augmented reality enterprise facing applications are majorly used for merchandizing, store design visualization, warehouse planning, product prototyping, training and maintenance.

Why Augmented Reality?

Leading retailers like Tesco, Ikea, Macys, Walgreens and Sephora have proven to the world, how the effective use of augmented reality can add high value. Research indicates that there is a 135% increase in a buyer’s likelihood to purchase, when they see an AR version of a product. AR can educate customers, engage them and provide them with a memorable experience.

  • AR can bring back customers to the physical stores and give then an fascinating in-store experience
  • Augmented Reality can provide a wealth of information to the consumer
  • AR can increase the user’s interaction with the retailer
  • It can help consumers to visualize a product and add “Try” in the Click and Buy model
  • AR can enhance the brand image and help the retailers connect with the tech savvy shopper

The next logical question that arises is how we should use AR and, more importantly, how to make it work.

How to get AR to work?

Technologies like AR will not be attractive or accepted by the customers just for the technology sake. Retailers need to have a customer centric approach and should think about leveraging AR. Before embarking on the AR journey, companies need to conceptualize and strategize AR use cases. They need to build a convincing business case and be sure that AR technology can help them to achieve a specific goal. Post ideating, retailers need to design the ideal augmented experience by finalizing 2D or 3D augments, the markers or targets, user journey and the end goal. The final step is to develop and implement the solution.

Companies have a plethora of options when it comes to implementing AR. The options will, however, depend on the designed AR experience.

In-Store Dedicated Kiosks for AR: Retailers setup kiosks at strategic locations with a large screen, camera, Kinect device and/or QR code scanners. These kiosks, later, use product or visual markers to augment the marker, with content, to engage and interact with the client. Some examples are Virtual Fitting rooms, Product Visualization, without unboxing, click a photo booth etc. These, typically, provide for a great in-store experience, however requires large investments.

Mobile AR: Mobile AR is the most powerful tool to implement AR, owing to the sheer penetration of smartphones. It is easily accessible and simple to adopt. Mobile AR can be, either, location based or marker based. Retailers build a separate dedicated AR mobile application or add an AR module to their existing mobile application to engage with clients. In both the cases, retailers can build exclusive AR capabilities that can give them a digital edge over the competitors. As for the location based AR, the onus of getting users to download a separate application is on the retailers whereas with marker based Mobile AR, they can work with their existing mobile application users and loyalty members. Some examples include Virtual Mirror applications, Tesco Discover App and Ikea AR Catalog feature in existing application.
Apart from this, retailers also use Augmented Reality for running promotions or campaigns through a third party AR application, where they need not be concerned about getting people to download application. This is more of a short term strategy, specific to a particular campaign.

Web Based AR: This method uses the desktop webcam to add augments. User can bring any marker, like a QR code or a product to the webcam, to experience the augments. This is, also, typically, used as an add-on feature for e-commerce sites to add the virtual trial feature and bring the Click, Try and Buy model.

Smart Glasses or Wearable AR: Using smart glasses or wearable devices, like Google glass, to detect markers and add augments. These are still in the infancy stage and, mostly, used for enterprise scenarios, since the consumer adoption of these technologies is still quite less.

What’s Next?

Retail industry is, already, amidst disruptive changes, fighting reducing footfalls, declining profits and competition from online retailers. They are striving hard to stay relevant to the modern selective shopper. Gartner predicts that Augmented Reality will be in the main stream in the next 5 years. Technology is changing at a breakneck speed and retailers cannot play the catch up game anymore.

They should imbibe a digital mindset and act with a careful and well-crafted strategy, rather than working on it as an afterthought. At the end of the day, to what extent and in which way retailers can leverage Augmented Reality, is only limited by their imagination.

Have you used AR technology to implement any of your enterprise solutions? Do share your experience with us.


Raakesh Rajan

Retail Consultant – Mobility Business Consulting, RapidValue

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