AR in Retail, Marketing, and Sales in 2021

AR in Retail, Marketing, and Sales in 2021: Practical Yet Innovative


Andrew Makarov
Andrew Makarov,
Head of Mobile Development

Image credit: Unsplash

Augmented reality’s tremendous potential spans a variety of industries. The applications available through AR can improve customer satisfaction and drive sales. AR can lead conversions, help shoppers in stores and help customers shop online. When customers are connected to products they buy in an authentic, tactile, and visual way, they can be brought closer to your product and give your business an edge in the market.

Technology in any industry must be practical in order to be useful and reach mass adoption. This is often a large barrier for experimental technology, as it frequently can only be used in very specific conditions or is too expensive to be implemented. However, AR technology is no longer in this experimental, complicated, and expensive stage of development. It’s ready to be deployed to drive sales for your business.

The most practical solutions are often the ones that use tried and true technology. A strong balance must be drawn between practical and innovative technology, and AR currently fits excellently between these two. Innovation leads to opportunity, while practicality allows for reliability and trust.

For example, augmented reality is already being used by major businesses like Ikea to allow customers to see what furniture would look like in their homes before buying. By allowing customers to demo the product in a manner that is very similar to how one would try on clothes at an outlet store, Ikea can drive sales with augmented reality technology.

Speaking of outlet stores, AR is also being used for virtual fitting room technology, allowing customers to try on glasses, makeup, and even shoes and other clothing. We’ll talk more about this later in the article.

Virtual Manuals: New Ways of Presenting Information to Customers

AR has the ability to change the way that we present information to users that can lead conversions. Hyundai and Mercedes are utilizing AR vehicle manuals to improve customer satisfaction. This can increase customer loyalty, which leads to future sales and improves the company’s reputation.

Traditional vehicle guides, typically booklets with hundreds of pages each, can be confusing and dense. Because the information presented is primarily textual and also two-dimensional, it can be a chore to learn about a vehicle. Mercedes utilizes a virtual assistant to help acquaint car owners with their vehicles. By pointing their device’s camera at various parts of the vehicle, the user can tap and learn about features at their disposal. This kind of technology makes it possible to brief drivers on how to use their vehicles and take care of them properly.

Below you can check out our video demonstration on how augmented reality manuals work and how they can be useful for your customers.

Retail Industry: AR Experiences That Help Shoppers

Shopping, both in-person and online, has great potential to be improved by augmented reality. One of the most important divides when it comes to the difference between digital and brick and mortar stores is the concept of “try before you buy”. Although customers gain a great deal of convenience by being able to shop from home online, they lose out on the ability to test out what those products will be like. This can make or break a sale, and augmented reality can help drive those conversions by offering a valuable compromise.

Each AR experience that can be offered to shoppers can help enhance their shopping experience. It also increases customer engagement, leading to repeat sales and confidence in the brand. AR technology can also bridge the gap between online and offline shopping, an important step after the pandemic lockdowns of 2020.

Many important brands have begun to use AR to engage to reach their shoppers. Walmart teamed up with Wikitude and Current Studios to provide an in-store AR experience.

Home Improvement: Furniture, Appliances, and Paint

This isn’t just limited to furniture as we discussed earlier with Ikea’s AR solution. Home Depot is allowing customers to test out entirely new room colors and preview the placement of appliances in their kitchens. This greatly increases the likelihood of a sale even for in-person customers. It can be difficult to imagine what a color of paint will look like while visiting an in-person store, and augmented reality technology can allow customers to imagine exactly what that color of paint will look like in their living room, kitchen, and bedroom.

AR Can Allow Customers to Try on Apparel from Home

One of the applications of AR in the retail, marketing, and sales space is using AR to simulate the role of in-person fitting rooms at outlet stores. Although virtual try on technology existed previously, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 accelerated the development of this technology and it was quickly adopted by various industry leaders.

Kohl’s is one example. In collaboration with Snapchat, users could try on various products virtually with AR and buy them directly from the app. AR technology like this has great potential to create conversions for customers shopping at home.

Recently, Perfect Corp. has begun a new partnership with Google to launch an AR experience to allow customers to try out beauty products.

Sephora is another example of an industry leader making great use of this technology. By allowing customers at home to try on makeup products with only their smartphones, Sephora was able to remain a relevant brand during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The process of trying on makeup through their AR app is also very similar to how one would try on makeup in real life as users look into a virtual mirror (their smartphone’s display) to see how they would look with the product applied.

Using AR to Navigate Stores: Navigation in Indoor Environments

Shopping malls and large shopping centers like supermarkets and car dealerships can be tricky to navigate. If you have a complex series of paths throughout your store similar to Ikea, customers often may find themselves lost. They may have to navigate the store for long periods of time in order to find the item that they want. Augmented reality can help customers navigate these areas by providing on-screen directions.

Walgreens and Lowe’s have already started to implement indoor navigation technologies. However, Lowes uses AR technology to direct customers while Walgreens does not.

AR navigation in indoor environments like retail stores is an exciting feature that can help when marketing to an audience. Users will be excited to come visit to try it out. It also has practical value, helping shoppers find what they need while reducing the workload of employees helping customers find their way.

All customers have to do is type in what they want to find and on-screen AR directions will point them to their destination. This is all powered by their smartphone’s camera. To develop a successful AR navigation system for retail applications, businesses will need to consider installation of infrastructure like visual markers that act as references for the AR navigation app. In recent years, other technologies to support indoor positioning systems include BLE beacons, Wi-FI RTT and ultra wide-band technology.

AR Branded Materials: Networking and Marketing

For businesses, retail or not, marketing is an important part of reaching customers. This is especially true for commission-based sales. Business cards are one of the most useful ways to connect with customers and continue conversations that can lead to conversions. However, these physical cards can become so much more with augmented reality technology.

With the help of a QR code on a business card, the customer can use their smartphone’s camera to scan it and be led to a website with a WebAR experience. This can transform the business card into a dynamic, animated, and 3D experience to promote your business. AR business cards may also demonstrate a product and have links to your company’s website.

Creating augmented reality business cards can help leave lasting impressions on new contacts. Although traditional business cards may not be very memorable, adding an AR experience to them can greatly improve the customer’s confidence and perception of your company.

Leveraging AR to Generate Social Media Interest

Augmented reality has great potential to initiate trends online if used creatively. This can be a major boon for marketing and sales for retail businesses and other sectors. AR advertisements have the power to catch the curious eye of potential customers and engage existing customers to build confidence and reputation for your brand.

Pepsi offers an example of this in action when they generated a great deal of buzz about their brand with an AR experience at a bus stop. By transforming the sign into an AR display that could be viewed through a user’s smartphone, Pepsi was able to drive many users to investigate the curious feature for themselves. In turn, Pepsi was able to drive many customers to be interested in their products.

Netflix is another example, and they partnered with Snapchat to help market the release of the Stranger Things series on their Netflix’s network. By transforming the room the user was in into a scene from the TV show, users were made aware of the upcoming series and their interest in it was solidified.

Making B2B Sales With Engaging AR Product Presentations

When selling products to retail businesses and other groups, clients like to have a good idea of what the product will be like. Augmented reality can help business-to-business (B2B) sales by changing the way that clients view and interact with products. This is especially true with proposals for prospective creations. For example, it may be difficult for clients to visualize a building that has not yet been constructed. Augmented reality can help them experience what the structure may be like before it has been built.

Headsets like Microsoft HoloLens are great platforms for presenting information like this. Because of the comparably great processing power of the headset, it can help for imagining what products will look like before they have been built. The video below showcases our demonstration of HoloLens for B2B showroom applications.

However, B2B pitches need not be limited to HoloLens-style headsets. Mobile AR can be just as effective if not more so, especially if you are selling a product that uses AR as a feature. If the product can be demonstrated on the smartphones of your business clients, then there is a possibility that general consumers will be able to use it too.

AR Product Support: Self Service and Telesupport Applications

Customer support is an important investment for all industries, including retail. The customer experience management market is showing a growing use of digital channels by consumers for communication with brands.
Intercom found that customers who have good experiences with support are worth 2.5 times more to them in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). Although call centers and self service web portals can deal with a great deal of the challenge of customer support, augmented reality has the potential to open up a third avenue of assistance to users.

Augmented reality service support can help revolutionize the way that we help our customers with technical problems. One of the most notable ways that this technology can help users is by allowing support personnel to connect with users via mobile teleconferencing. The support service member on the other end of the call can draw markings on the screen that the user can see in 3D space.

This is especially helpful for applications like computer troubleshooting. All the user has to do is point their camera at their computer and the technical support member can draw a circle around the area of interest. The user can then see the circle in 3D space through their smartphone as a window. This can help make remote support much easier. Below you can see an example of this technology in action.

Similar applications would be possible with out-of-box furniture assembly and other kinds of products that have detailed parts. This can also be helpful as an enterprise technical support solution.

AR: Powering Into the Future of Retail, Marketing, and Sales

Augmented reality stands to revolutionize the way we market our products and sell them to our audience in stores and online. It’s important to get ahead of the game now and begin implementing solutions to innovate and stay competitive. However, AR is not only innovative. It also has practical applications that can improve the customer experience.

From indoor navigation to try-before-you-buy experiences at home, AR has great potential to improve many facets of the in-store retail experience. The technology stands to be a major boon for marketing and sales not only for consumers but also for B2B applications. Taking advantage of these applications where it matters most for your business can give you the edge in the market.

If you’re interested in learning more about the different applications that AR can provide for your business, be sure to check out our Augmented Reality Demo Collection where we showcase AR applications that we’ve developed here at MobiDev.

Augmented reality isn’t science fiction: it’s reality. When businesses are faced with problems, technology and creativity can always help us find a solution. There are so many possibilities for AR, what we’ve listed so far has only scratched the surface. What can make or break a business in the market is how they choose to combine AR with other innovative technologies to create a truly unique solution and experience for users.

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