Augmented Reality (AR) for holographic product information in times of COVID19
When I started doing research during my PhD in Australia on whether and how Augmented Reality (AR) impacts decision-making on consumption contexts, I went through hundreds of different retailing examples that we did not end up using for controlled experiments.
The main reason that I decided not to follow up with a lot of applications that were developed by retailers or supermarkets was the mere fact that these applications did not seem to provide any benefit to the consumer. They only took product information on the outside of a package, for example nutrient content, and displayed the information in AR. While it might seem revolutionary at first glance, telling a customer via AR that the product is gluten free via letting the customer read this potentially valuable information on the package, seldomly motivated customers to do the following: Getting their phone out of their pocket, download an app, opening the app, and scanning the package, to finally receive information that is already printed on the package anyways.
While the supermarket AR applications often had other benefits, such as viewing the social media page of your favorite pasta brand, we often received feedback that these applications are “fun to play with in the beginning” but “nothing I would use regularly”. But times have changed.
Now, in April 2020, we try not only to keep our distance to other customers, resulting in salsa-like dance-offs in supermarket aisles, but we also have to remind ourselves that touching surfaces that have been touched by others before are to be avoided at all costs. Over are the times of the fitness-fanatic that studies each protein bar by physically taking it out of the shelf and absorbing its protein-to-carb ratio for minutes to optimize his post-workout snack. The gluten-lactose intolerant yogi on the other side of the aisle cannot just take each premade acai-super-health-bowl out of the shelf to investigate whether the ecological footprint of shipping acai berries from Brazil to Belgium is lower for brand A or B. AR could suddenly become increasingly relevant by providing information on a different surface, namely your personal smartphone.
With AR the wine connoisseur can wander through the aisles and inspect the shelves of his favorite cellar while having information at hand that would not fit on the label of the biggest magnum bottle in this universe, without touching a single bottle. AR previously was mainly used by companies where product virtual try-on (e.g. Wayfarer, L’Oreal) or product inspection (e.g. IKEA) benefitted from the holographic, three-dimensional presentation of information. How else would customers be able to trial a new IKEA couch in their own living room, prior to a purchase?
COVID19 seems to highlight another and currently overlooked benefit of using AR to present information differently to humans, namely by providing a virtual canvas that is virtually (…) immune to viruses. Will this prominent feature of the technology result in another surge of AR retailing applications that aid our way back to a post-COVID19 era? An interesting thought, and only time and future research will tell us where we are heading with this.