Augmented reality – once associated with the wearing of clunky glasses and feeling disoriented – is finally coming of age. By teaming up with social media, brands have successfully implemented AR to allow prospective customers to virtually “try before they buy.”
Augmented Reality goes social
The social media platform Snapchat may have pioneered it, but Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok quickly followed with their own lenses, filters and effects. And retailers from Target to Gucci have realized its value not only for entertainment and brand awareness, but also for selling products.
The technology was given a huge boost in the wake of the retail lockdown last year, a result of the COVID pandemic.
Stuck at home and bored, would-be shoppers wiled away the hours with AR filters and lenses available on social media. Advertisers soon took notice of how filters and lenses could be used for virtual try-on and other experiences.
Seeing how that pair of Gucci sneakers is as easy as pointing a cell phone camera at your feet. And experimenting with makeup is much less messy using Sephora’s Snapchat lens.
Developments in AR
While the technology has improved greatly recently, there are still some limitations.
For example, while a customer can visualize just how stylin’ those kicks will be, AR can’t size the shoes. That’s unfortunate, because returns are a huge sore spot for retailers, particularly those selling apparel. The issue is that today’s cameras depth perception can’t accurately determine size.
Once AR technology improves enough to reliably size clothing, demand will likely skyrocket; currently, Snapchat says it has 200M daily AR users. That could translate into millions in revenue.
Social shopping to drive in-store traffic
Well-established brands such as Sephora have the best of both virtual and physical commerce. Using Snapchat, customers can take and share pictures of themselves trying on new makeup styles.
Social shopping lets the customer’s friends weigh in on the buying decision, and the product can be purchased directly through the app.
But the experience online helps to drive in-store traffic as well. Creating a fun, memorable AR experience on a social network helps customers remember the brand, which can prompt them to visit it in-person.
Those companies become “top of mind” for particular types of products. In addition, social shopping apps can promote store events and are effective for location-based marketing as well.
Snapchat’s “ephemeral” nature helps create a sense of urgency and builds a sense of exclusivity. Today’s Generation X shoppers in particular crave exclusivity and limited-time offerings.
AR can attract the “right” buyers by providing an engaging customer experience on social media platforms. That interactivity can benefit a brick-and-mortar channel as well, by bringing attention to the brand as an innovator willing to meet customers’ needs in person as well as virtually.