How Augmented Reality is Shaping the Future of Retail

Google’s recent demo of Google Glass at its I/O conference shows that a great deal of time and money is being thrown at augmented reality (AR), the use of a virtual layer on top of real-world information.

However, while Google Glass may be the future of AR, many retailers are already using it today with existing devices. Whether it’s tools that let you try on clothes virtually, apps that help you find your favorite restaurant or new ways for consumers to interact with a brand, AR is already making an impact on retail.

Here are just a few ways that AR technology is changing retail and altering consumer mobile purchasing decisions.

Augmented Reality to Localize Businesses

Modern phones have powerful GPS receivers, compasses and accelerometers that make it possible to know exactly where its located and what they are looking at. AR apps such as Layar take advantage of this to show people information about their surroundings including what businesses are nearby.

Retailers, by combining augmented reality with localized SEO, are using this technology to reach consumers that, previously, were beyond their grasp. For example, if a pedestrian in an unfamiliar area realizes they need a pair of shoes urgently, they can use an augmented reality app on their phone to not only point them to nearby shoe stores, but browse the stock of those stores before heading to them.

This makes it easy for the customer to know exactly where they should go for the product they want and keeps businesses from dealing with customers who are a poor match, such as a person looking for running shoes that wanders into a dress shoe store.

Augmented reality makes it easy for retailers to be matched up with relevant customers. Customers know how to localize businesses that are relevant to them, what businesses have to offer, and read up on other consumers’ product reviews, all without looking further than their cell phones.

Augmented Reality for Purchasing Accuracy

However, the power of AR doesn’t end when the customer walks into the shop. AR is also becoming more commonplace inside shops themselves. For example, Lego recently introduced a series of kiosks that, when a shopper would hold up a box, would display the completed model as if it were in their hands.

Similarly, the United States Postal Service has a virtual box simulator that lets customers see if a package will fit into one of their flat rate boxes, the idea being to eliminate guesswork in choosing which box to use.

However, even retailers that aren’t building custom AR apps for their service are likely benefiting from the technology. There are countless barcode apps for nearly every mobile phone that lets customers scan codes and read more about the product, including what it does, how other customers review it and how prices for it compare.

The result of this is that customers are becoming better informed about the products they buy and are more likely to be happy with the purchases they make. Though this does mean increased competition, especially among consumers using AR for price comparisons, customers that make a purchase are more likely to be satisfied.

Augmented Reality to Enhance Shopping Experience Online

As important as AR has been to the physical store experience, it has become much more important to the online shopping experience, where it has been used to close the gap between what an online store and a physical store can do.

For example, De Beers has an AR tool that lets you virtually try on jewelry and SnapShop is an app for your phone that lets you similarly try out any furniture you want in your house.

The reason for this push is simple, since customers can’t hold or touch goods in an online store, virtual retailers want to give customers as close to that experience as they can get and AR offers a powerful way to do just that.

While it may not be the same as actually trying on clothes or holding a product in your hands, AR can definitely be the next best thing.

All in all, AR is going to play an increased role in both retailers and consumers lives. More and more buying decisions are going to be influenced by AR, including both promotional tools and AR information services.

As such, retailers need to be thinking about their AR strategy today so they can be prepared for this future. Anyone who doesn’t have a plan in place soon may find themselves being forced to play catch-up later and at a serious disadvantage to better-prepared competitors.

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for a psd to html 5 company, and who also consults for a company that offers businesses and individuals with a task management tool.

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