Reality or fantasy? The power of AR in retail

Augmented Reality or AR is becoming more and more popular in retail but how far can it go? Malcolm Fogarty, global digital and innovation director at tcc global and managing director of Gametation, explains the ongoing power of AR in retail

Unless you were living under a rock at the time, you would be hard pushed not to have been privy to the craze that was PokemonGo in 2016; the location-based augmented reality game enabling users to locate, capture, battle and train virtual creatures, courtesy of their mobile device’s GPS capability. 
Taking the world by storm, it was one of the first forays into the power of AR on a mass-scale and perhaps, more significantly, demonstrated the willingness of the public to engage with an interactive, computer-mediated reality. 
So how can industries and more specifically, retail, benefit from the success of leveraging such a wide-reaching tactic to drive user adoption and engagement? 
Over the years, the retail industry in particular has been at the forefront of embracing AR in order to deliver interactive and experiential experiences designed to enhance the in-store experience of the customers it serves with a view to encouraging footfall, providing a memorable visit for shoppers and inflating their bottom lines. But in an industry which requires an ever-evolving response to the rapidly  changing needs of customers, it’s easy to dismiss much of what the retail sector does as ‘fads’ which come and go. It seems however, that AR looks destined to make a lasting impact and to redefine the way in which we interact with brands and retailers. 
Perception
AR technology is designed to enhance the user’s perception of the real world by introducing digital elements to it. This can be done in a variety of interactive and engaging ways, usually by overlaying computer-generated graphics or information onto real images of a user’s surrounding environment. And when you consider that, despite best efforts and intentions, the high street continues to shrink; suddenly the appeal of AR becomes increasingly prevalent.  
In a retail context, the use of AR is proving itself to offer two significant advantages; fun and functionality. Done right, AR creates enjoyable and memorable experiences for shoppers – both in-store and at home: almost pieces of theatre that can bring campaigns to life. But it also delivers on more practical and commercial requirements such as physically enabling the placing of items into someone’s home to allow them to visualise before they buy, as we have seen in the case of Tesco and their Home Book catalogue, or revealing useful information about a product: Lego for example, has used AR-powered packaging to show what a finished product would look like in 3D.
Try before you buy 
With the continued growth of online and ecommerce, retailers have never been more aware of the increasing need to maintain the attraction and appeal of bricks and mortar physical environments, particularly if they are to ensure they continue to deliver the emotional benefits that come with a more personalised experience and the kind of impact that is only afforded through face-to-face contact. 
For those bricks and mortar stores, AR is a tool that is helping to enhance the in-store experience and drive footfall, and by intertwining it with meaningful campaigns or messages such as how to encourage your kids to eat healthily, the benefits of AR extend far beyond simply profit, into true long-term behavioural change. 
At tcc global, we’ve spent half a decade leveraging tools such as AR to create and drive advocacy for some of the world’s leading retailers and brand partners we work with. More recently, we built upon the popularity of our Goodness Gang healthy eating campaign to create the Goodness Gang AR experience with Biedronka, one of Europe’s largest grocery retailers. Families can hunt around Biedronka stores for the colourful range of Goodness Gang characters – unlocking recipes and educational content as they go – while being directed to in-store locations and products that they may not have otherwise considered for their weekly shop. 
You wear it well 
Fashion retail is another example within the sector where we have seen widespread adoption of AR. AR mirrors, for example, allow a shopper to change the colour of the clothes they are trying on, without having to physically change into each variation, and have been a feature in Uniqlo stores in the US for some time. In the UK, Burberry made significant use of AR technology during the 2012 launch of their Regent Street flagship store.
There is also huge potential afforded by AR to online retailers; enabling shoppers to try before they buy. Sephora’s Sephora Visual Artist for example, allows shoppers to play with different make up looks, with different outfits, before making a decision. 
Other examples include IKEA Home, the retailer’s first ARKit app, allows shoppers to see how a piece of furniture would look in their own home. Once you download the app, you use your device to snap a photo of the place in which you would like to visualise an IKEA product, before browsing the app for an item, selecting it to insert it into your photo and moving it into a place that works for you. 
This truly is bringing personalisation to consumers in a way that not only empowers them, but detracts away from the feeling of the ‘hard sell’ they may otherwise experience. The purchase decision is theirs, and is quite literally, at their fingertips. 
Opportunity
Ultimately, for those businesses that are brave enough to see the vast opportunity of AR and dive in, AR can change customer experience and shopper journeys for the better. What retailers need to avoid is using AR in a trivial manner. To make the most of the tool, its use must offer both a valuable experience and deliver on clear business objectives – and be fully committed to and invested in.  
If further proof of the benefits of AR were required, just look at the likes of global giants such as Netflix, Facebook, Google and Amazon – all of who have communicated the significance of AR to their customer engagement ongoing. 
So with AR firmly on the marketing radar, coupled with an increasingly ‘expectant’ consumer, armed with the ability to advocate or admonish a brand in an instant, could your business afford to be without it?