Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told Bloomberg that augmented reality (AR) is “changing the whole experience of how [customers] shop.”
Considering the typical experience of entering a store, looking through the merchandise, speaking to an associate and paying for the purchase has, in some cases, changed very little in the United States since Colonial times, until COVID-19.
Now, with social distancing and the Stay at Home life, augmented reality can bring brand stores home to their customers.
AR for COVID-19 omnichannel
AR could be a very effective tool for retailers looking to enhance their omnichannel retail strategy while shoppers are still hesitant to return to stores with the pandemic’s ongoing threat.
AR adds digital elements to a live view usually by using the camera on a smartphone.
In a store, shoppers typically already have their smartphones out, so taking over that screen’s real estate with AR content can deliver additional information that will grab consumers’ attention and keep them focused on making a purchase.
Brick and mortars and e-commerce could benefit from AR advantages over more traditional advertising efforts.
Merging digital and physical retail
The technology can merge online and offline customer experiences through an intuitive, context-sensitive, and socially connected interface.
How will that desk look in my home office? Will that color red look good on me?
AR puts the desk in your room or the blazer on your back, using the smartphone’s camera.
AI currently serves as an attention-grabber for retailers looking to deliver novel experiences.
It also provides interesting potential benefits to customers – such as allowing them to “showroom” a product at home, or see a product in its future environment, helping them to make more informed purchase decisions.
With shoppers unable or unwilling in many regions still to visit stores, augmented reality’s showrooming benefits could be an opportunity for a more consultative approach to distance sales.
Bringing customer value
Customers have been slow to warm up to AR, often considering it gimmicky and failing to see much value in it, but COVID-19 may change that perception.
The technology can deliver real value during the lockdown if firms are able to prioritize actual customer needs, such as more efficient and enjoyable shopping experiences that reduce decision-making uncertainty.
In contrast to other emerging technologies, which immerse customers into a fully synthetic environment (e.g., virtual reality), AR supplements reality rather than replaces it.
As such, it is the perfect lynchpin between the online and offline world.
Contextualizing experiences & spreading the word
AR contextualizes products and services by embedding digital content into the customer’s physical environment, interactively and in real-time and increasingly allows customers to share their enhanced view of reality with others.
Customers draw on their own physical experiences and actions to learn more about products and services, while also relying on others to support them in product or service evaluation.
Because people have a natural tendency to share their experiences with peers, customers commonly consult peer reviews, go shopping together, and increasingly share their shopping in real-time through highly visual social media such as Snapchat.
AR blurs the boundaries between online and offline channels by providing a combination of embedded and extended experiences.