In the next few years, augmented reality (AR) is poised to take over retail. For the uninitiated, AR uses computer-generated sensory input to alter your perception of the world in real-time. Already we are seeing its potential being harnessed in all areas of retail, including in-store, online, and through advertising.
In-store Customer Experience
Retailers have introduced AR in-store in an attempt to improve the customer experience.
Starbucks Holiday Cups
In 2011, Starbucks introduced their entertainment-focused “Holiday Cups” campaign. After downloading an app, customers could use their smart phone to make their coffee cups come alive.
AR’s in-store usefulness goes beyond entertainment. Intel has developed an AR digital display, which has interesting implications for retailers. Installed at the store entrance, the 7ft transparent display shows customers a digital floorplan and recommends products after assessing their gender. Product location is superimposed on the screen, and products can be placed on hold and brought to the cash register for payment. The aim of the technology is to help customers shop more quickly and easily.
Traditionally, the problem with online shopping has been that you can’t truly get a sense of a product from a 2 dimensional image. With AR, customers are now able to hold products in their hand, and try them on virtually.
Tesco online shopping
Tesco has already made AR a large part of their online-shopping experience. Customers select a product online, and then print a copy of the AR marker. Holding the marker to their webcam, it is transformed into a 3d model of the product. As the customer turns the marker, the 3d image rotates on screen as well. In the video below, a customer views a TV, and is able to see the ports on the back of the unit as she turns the AR marker.
Holition’s AR is as luxurious as the products it promotes. Designed for high-end products, their AR experience allows customers to virtually “try on” jewelry and watches. Holition is also working on expanding their AR so that customers can smell, hear, and feel products.
Bodymetrics Virtual dressing room
Unsurprisingly, 50% of garments bought online are returned. But what if you knew how those jeans would fit before you place your order? Bodymetrics’ Virtual dressing room uses your in-home motion capture device (such as the X-Box Kinect) to assess your body shape and virtually project clothes onto your digital frame. If you like what you see, your purchase can be completed right through your console.
AR is also finding its place in advertising.
GoldRun has already launched several successful AR advertising campaigns. One of their most interesting campaigns was when they created a virtual shoe store for Airwalk. AR markers were secretly hidden in public places in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. Customers used their smartphones to locate the markers, and were able to view limited edition versions of Airwalk classic shoes. They could then place an order from their phone for the shoe that they found.
This may sound funny coming from me, a tech geek that suffers from serious ringxiety and is connected to the Internet 24×7, but I like physical stores better than I like virtual ones. Of course, I’m not talking about convenience. Or price. Buying stuff in my pajamas during a snow day for a few bucks less than I would pay around town is always great. Obviously.
Savings aside, something gets lost in that transaction. It is the difference between shopping and purchasing. I still have an affinity to be treated as a person and not account #189320. When I visit a store, or a restaurant or a veterinarian (ok, not me, my dog) I am actually looking for something beyond the goods or services that I’ve decided to purchase. I want the service. As in… from a human being; a living, breathing, real, live human being. Who wants me to be satisfied.
Now competing with online shopping, it shocks me that some retail companies still don’t get that. How they can’t recognize that I can make my purchase online but that I have decided instead travel to and visit a real place with real human beings in order to receive “service” is baffling. I recently had a couple of experiences that caught my attention.
One was at a restaurant where I was utterly ignored by the servers. My presence was not acknowledged for almost 20 minutes until someone finally asked if I was ordering from the menu or going for the buffet. In their defense, I’ve not had much luck finding online buffets. But I’m sure they’re coming.
Not too long after, I went to a huge book store where the salespeople just didn’t care about the people coming and going. In and out. In and out. In and out. Not so much as a simple “Can I help you”?
It shouldn’t get to a point, I don’t believe, where the “in-person” retail experience feels like you’re asking for a favour instead of paying for a service. It was shocking. How do those people stay in business? I, for one, will never go back to those places.
We can now buy pretty much everything over the Internet. From groceries to ATV’s to cell phones. Restaurants are everywhere and “food” is not what I’m looking for when I go to one of them.
When I go anywhere I’m there for the service. If I go to a book store or to a restaurant it’s not because I can’t buy online or can’t cook my own food. It’s because I want to enjoy some good service provided by knowledgeable and friendly people. I want to feel special.
It was Dale Carnegie who said: “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” and boy, the world was not that competitive during his time.