Augmented reality may have surged in popularity in 2016 thanks to the runaway success of Pokémon Go, but the technology has been gaining real traction in recent months. This is no coincidence as both Apple (through the launch of ARkit) and Google (with ARcore) both released new platforms late last year that make it easier to develop AR applications for smartphones.
With analysts expecting there to be 1 billion AR users worldwide by 2020, we look at some of the ways that forward-thinking retailers have been putting the technology to good use over the last few months.
3D visualisation remains popular
Furniture and home retailers have been among the early adopters of augmented reality, particularly as it such an effective way to show shoppers how certain items would look in their own homes.
And there are clear benefits for developing these apps: US home improvement retailer Lowe’s has for instance stated that its conversion rates jump 104% when customers use its AR-enabled app.
IKEA was one of the first retailers to develop a furniture visualisation app using ARKit late last year. While it did already offer similar functionality through its Catalog app, IKEA Place is a dramatic improvement, with products now shown to scale at 98% accuracy and it even includes lighting and shadows.
Photo Credit: IKEA
Interestingly, a digital designer has also just released a concept app that helps users assemble IKEA furniture – a notorious pain point in the IKEA customer experience. While the app has had no involvement from the Swedish furniture giant, it could certainly be an area they could turn their attention to next.
Adidas Originals unboxing
Unboxing videos of new products are perhaps one of the most popular genres on YouTube. Often these are done by high profile vloggers that are given early access to these products to create some buzz ahead of a launch.
Adidas has turned this idea on its head by giving everyone access to its new Deerupt shoe through an AR experience that has been made available on desktops and mobile devices. By clicking on a virtual shoe box, the new product is unveiled which users can then view from all angels with their cursor or fingertips.
While the dedicated Deerupt site is not transactional, it does contain a link to the Adidas site where the new footwear can be bought. But above all, Adidas has managed to create a sense of excitement in a segment where brands constantly need to find innovative ways to drop new products.
eBay’s packaging tool
eBay shows us a practical application of AR technology. In the latest update of its Android app in the US, it has introduced a new feature that helps sellers find the right packaging.
The app allows users to overlay packaging over the items they want to send out. Ultimately this could save time and money as often sellers are under the impression that they require bigger and more expensive packaging than is actually needed.
While the feature is currently only available on Android devices, and only shows packaging available to purchase at UPS, eBay is planning to introduce it on iOS as well.
Zara’s shop windows
This month Zara announced that it will introduce an augmented reality experience across 120 of its flagship stores as it looks to engage with millennials.
Over a period of two weeks, customers who have installed the new Zara AR app can hold up their phone to shop windows and see the models come to live on their phones. The functionality will also work with online orders: customers will get to see the contents of their orders when they point their device over the package.
Photo Credit: Inditex
While this experience is squarely a marketing exercise – users are encouraged to share the images on social media – it is part of a wider digital drive by parent company Inditex. With Zara facing stiff competition from online retailers such as Asos, it is hoping the app will convince millennials to visit its stores.
As these examples highlight, current applications of augmented reality still mainly focus on practical applications such as 3D visualisation as well as marketing engagement.
But much work remains to be done if the technology is to reach its full potential. Think for instance of the many beauty brands that use the technology to demonstrate how products will appear on a user’s skin, but where accuracy is still not where it should be.
There is also a real challenge in measuring the impact of AR applications and drawing out any usable analytics. So far we don’t really know what the impact is of the technology in terms of driving sales and boosting customer experience and loyalty, so it will be interesting to see how retailers take this forward over the coming years.