Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

AR and retail collide

by Michael Smollan. Thinking beyond today, retailers need to enhance the physical space for consumers.

by Michael Smollan. I am all about the shopping experience. The satisfaction a well-considered, engaging mix of both physical and virtual moments that agreeably kick my endorphins into touch in a good way – the happier I am. Offer me an augmented reality (AR) trip, and my senses are ready to pretty much explore whatever enhanced version of my physical space successfully serves me.

eCommerce for the most part relies on consumers using photos or videos as a shopping guide;  whereas vcommerce – one of the more popular kids on the playground – allows you and I to visualise products in the real-world as AR and traditional retail collide. Indeed, the retail landscape is crowded, and customers are desensitised to a lot of marketing methods. With stimulus being thrown at us on a daily basis it’s no wonder, so relying on product alone would be a mistake. Innovative ways to capture customer attention has to be top of mind, with AR shifting the switch to bring a product; a shop window; or an image to life that offers a completely new way to capture customer attention. Lest we forget recent lessons learnt, when the world becomes complex, doubling down on the customer and ensuring their shopping experience is top, is the one thing one can bank on as good play.

The global AR market is projected to grow from $6.12 billion this year to reach $97.76 billion by 2028. Some of the biggest retailers and flashiest brands want a slice of that pie. Adidas, pioneers of AR’s ‘try-on’ technology added the feature to its IOS app, tracking foot movements enabling users to see how sneakers look in real-time. L’Oréal’s Modiface on Amazon allows customers to try on make-up using digitally overlaid looks onto live photos and videos. IKEA’s Studio app enables users to capture entire 3D room plans and re-design them while Walmart uses AR to test inventory control with the tech helping to enhance the customer experience by putting more products on shelves, faster than before. Levi has taken AR a step further, launching Squad, an on-line co-watching video app where friends can shop together – I love my mates but that’s not one of my squad goals.

A recent Deloitte perspective examining the transformation of the customer experience, noted that by embedding AR in retail retailers get an additional connection to their customers, disrupting the classic ecommerce vs brick-and-mortar trade-off between traffic and conversion rates. This creates a vcommerce space where customers can now experience, experiment, and share immersive product interaction. According to a 2019 Neilsen global survey, consumers listed AR and VR as the top technologies they’re seeking to assist them in this try-before-you-buy shopping approach, with 51% saying they would be willing to use this tech to assess products. Global AR advertising revenue grew to $1.41 billion in 2020, with 5G availability expected to increase retailer interest in AR experimentation because of the improved bandwidth.

Integrating AR into marketing efforts has the potential to build consumer relationships, boost sales and add that value differentiator that makes shopping enjoyable. We are still navigating choppy waters when it comes to staying profitable and sustainable as we continue to move with the ebb and flow of the pandemic. Tapping into ways to surf the swell, knowtechie.com suggests a few keyways in which retailers using AR can improve the shopping experience…

1. Faster checkout

As per the Walmart example I mentioned, AR is able to assist with the stocking, merchandising and checkout processes. In turn, customers using AR via a store’s mobile app, will help them find items on their own or learn more about something they want to buy with a click of their phone’s camera.

2. Fewer returns

Don’t even get me started on this personal pain point, so if AR can effectively reduce returns and keep customers satisfied, sign me up! AR apps are specifically developed to help curate a more superior shopping experience to help buyers find their exact size and search criteria. With try-before-you-buy capabilities and importantly the ability to file instant claims – I see potential.

3. Increased referrals

We know, in the age of social media and influencer marketing, just one post could bring thousands of new customers to a retailer’s virtual store. Making sure that customers using AR are satisfied by simplifying purchases and providing helpful support, could be a huge benefit in retail commerce.

4. Brand awareness

AR is able to show digital text and images on a device’s screen while the user is ‘walking’ through the aisles. Branded photo filters are proving hugely effective in boosting brand visibility which could impact the audience’s loyalty as a result.

The pandemic was certainly a catalyst for digital transformation. Keep calm and carry on I say. The ride is only starting with the extended reality (XR) revolution waiting in the wings, where lines between the real world and the virtual world are waiting impatiently to reveal themselves that will reshape our lives in ways we can’t even imagine.


Main image credit: Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash.


Michael Smollan is Chief Growth & Innovation Officer of Smollan. Smollan is a leading retail solutions company that delivers growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents by covering every aspect of how their brand is managed at the point of purchase, from field sales to in store and digitally. Smollan partners with brand owners and retailers to deliver accelerated growth by increasing reach, driving availability and visibility, increasing efficiency and delivering superior shopper experiences; operating across emerging and developed markets, in modern and general trade, and across physical and digital channels.


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