Augmented Reality in Retail Reality: using benefits of the first to match the needs of the second

When was the last time you turned to an encyclopedia to help you find some information? Similar to how the Internet changed this process, Augmented Reality (AR) is to kill showrooming.

With many global retailers closing their stores this year, everyone feels that a new era is approaching. No, we don’t want to compare brick and mortar stores to dinosaurs and predict their complete extinction, but it’s becoming obvious that major companies will have to re-structure their approaches to reaching their audience and selling goods — for instance, Bebe, which is reducing the number of stores in favor of online sales, or The Limited, which announced the complete closure of all its 250 mall-based shops.

The case is that technologies continue to reshape modern retail, and customers become more demanding and tech-savvy, adding more pain points to retailers’ plans and strategies.

The decision to put significant efforts into developing the area of e-commerce and shifting to an online mode is quite reasonable in today’s shopping realities. Businesses have to understand that it’s not efficient either to use conventional methods or stay up-to-date. Knowing customers’ actual needs is not enough nowadays — retailers have to predict customers’ wishes and upcoming trends. The only way is to offer what’s next: be ahead of time and invest in techno solutions to win modern market. We believe that Augmented Reality software may become a very influential weapon in this battle for the place under the retail sun.

Choose what’s hot: why Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality itself is a new version of a real-world environment, but with a supplement — digital data overlaid on it, visible through the prism of a desktop, tablet or phone screen.

After the hype of Pokemon Go! in 2016, Augmented Reality became more approachable. People now understand how it works and, of course, they now wait for more. The army of active Augmented Reality users is rapidly growing, and its global market is predicted to reach about 90 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. As well as the growth of AR, software revenue is predicted to be threefold higher than Virtual Reality’s (VR) revenue by the same year.

Moreover, the survey of adult U.S. shoppers conducted by Interactions Consumer Experience Marketing also proves the power of AR. According to its results, 71% of shoppers said they would return to a retailer whose services are supported with Augmented Reality, and 72% of AR users claimed to purchase non-planned items exactly because of the AR influence. These numbers declare the turnover point for the whole retail industry.

Augmented Reality is a powerful tool to engage customers and gain a new audience. People prefer AR for its innovation and, of course, simplicity — no need to use headsets, as is the case with VR — a regular smartphone is already enough. But in which cases is AR usage rational?

It’s not surprising that furniture, clothing, and makeup tools are among the most popular cases to experiment with, as these categories are what various social groups are interested in. Several global brands have already implemented Augmented Reality into their campaigns or services and proved that it works.

For example, IKEA provided an AR Catalog to let shoppers “put” certain pieces of furniture into their existing interior and check how it would look. L’Oréal launched the Style My Hair app to help users choose hairstyles, hair colors, and effects according to face shape and features. Converse created The Sampler mobile app, which enables people to visualize a pair of shoes on feet without even wearing them. What a convenience, right? At ELEKS, we search for more variants of how and where retailers can use Augmented Reality.

One of our recent experiments with AR for retail focuses on the development of Virtual Glasses Try On, as one rarely buys sunglasses without first trying them on to see how they fit. At the ELEKS Retail Centre of Excellence, we analysed a few already-existing options to try on glasses virtually, but they are usually no good for choosing the perfect pair. So, we decided to build our own enhanced, web-based software that is fully supported by iOS and Android devices without a native app.

How did we manage to design a sufficient option?

The focus is on the combination of a realistic look, usability, and actual size fit and proportions. We use the highly detailed WebGL model of glasses, which makes shadows and glares together with colors and materials look real. Its 3D mesh aligns perfectly with the user’s facial image. To define the correct size, we suggest shoppers use any card (credit/debit or discount) as a reference.

The replayed side view video provides a full picture of how the glasses would fit, so it’s possible to see different models from all perspectives as well as compare multiple frames and styles. Shoppers are not only able to try the glasses they found, but use our system to get recommendations on the suitable variants based on individual physiological characteristics.

And that’s why we believe that AR is killing showrooming

One of the benefits of showrooms is that people can try on the things they want to buy, but with Augmented Reality retailers can create virtual fitting rooms. Really, why should one go to a showroom when it is possible to choose the perfect glasses (in our case) without any hustle, just using your smartphone? You can complete the deal at lunchtime, before going to sleep, or while standing in line waiting somewhere.

Why do we fall for it? Because what Augmented Reality offers is a “try-and-buy” solution: simple, quick, and ultra-convenient. Nowadays, a unique shopping experience aligned with invincible convenience matters no less than a product’s quality: the usual trip to a mall is no longer entertainment; it’s a waste of time.

Mark Kennedy once said, “All of the biggest technological inventions created by man — the airplane, the automobile, the computer — says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.” If certain technology makes our life easier, it is bound to be a success.