We are rapidly approaching the point at which Augmented Reality will revolutionize the way that we market and shop. If you have doubts, it’s ok, future will show.
Let’s imagine that you are a Scandinavian furniture and homeware manufacturer and retailer. You are adored not just for your affordable pricing, but your in-store experience that you offer: customers don’t just push their shopping carts past rows of goods or view products in isolation, but instead experience a series of fully engaging “rooms”, which allow your customers to visualize your inventory in their own homes. This model has made you an ubiquitous brand, and you have locations all over the globe. Oh, and the meatballs are good too.
How could Augmented Reality bolster this already thriving business? Well, while your stores do a very good job of creating a sense of immersion, they do fall short in a couple of areas. First, your vast array of cabinets and nightstands, all coming in four different wood tones, simply can’t be displayed even in your hanger-sized buildings. Next, the illusion of a genuine domestic environment is slightly marred by the presence of a laminated price-tag attached to everything from the bedframe to the lampshade.
Augmented Reality (AR) can tackle both of these issues simultaneously. Would a shopper like to see the bathroom tiles in a tasteful mauve instead of eggshell? AR can provide the breadth of an online store with the visual experience of in-person retail. Instead of those immersion-breaking stickers, an AR overlay can provide not only pricing information, but signal product availability, physical dimensions and even assembly instructions.
Of course, not every store controls a global distribution network or can afford thousands of square feet of retail space. At the other end of the spectrum, small independent retailers are doing everything they can to maximize their resources and to compete with both “big box” competitors and online juggernauts.
So, let’s conduct another thought experiment. You are a local bookstore; your location in a trendy bohemian district means that you get a lot of foot traffic, but your inventory, mainly books and magazines, has to be crammed into a single, narrow space. In your business, there are two common scenarios that keep you up at night. The first is that a customer walks in off the street ready to buy a particular book that you don’t have in stock to sell them. The second situation that arises: you place a large order for a book you’re certain will be a best-seller, ordering two dozen copies to create a window display. The book flops, and then not only do you have unsellable merchandise on your hands, but you have given up a chunk of your precious retail space.
People continue to visit bookstores, in spite of cheaper online alternatives, in order to partake in the traditional browsing experience. By connecting the storefront directly to distributors, the retailer can offer consumers the full array of products in even small locations. An Augmented Reality bookstore would combine the familiar pleasures of roaming between shelves of books and discovering a new favorite novel, with the infinite array of choice offered by online retail. A customer might browse through a virtual library of titles in real time, leafing through genuine hardcover books, and have the physical copy of their selection with them on the same day.
From the largest global brands to beloved local businesses, Augmented Reality has the potential to resurrect the experience and viability of the brick and mortar retail; and perhaps even digitally transform the Main Street.