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Regular Industry Development Updates, Opinions and Talking Points relating to Manufacturing, the Supply Chain and Logistics.

Augmented Reality is becoming a Retail Reality

Augmented Reality is becoming a Retail Reality
Until recently, augmented reality (AR) has been perceived as sci-fi or gimmicky, based on futuristic devices that seem just too advanced to play a practical role in everyday life. But it’s becoming prevalent in more and more industries, creating incredible insight for businesses and an enjoyable experience for customers.

AR is making waves in retail and fashion, from the cashier-less Amazon Go store in Seattle, to the animated wine bottle that can suggest what to have for dinner. I expect the next 12 months to be a really exciting time for store technology, as physical shops become as intuitive and efficient as online retailers. With over three billion consumers owning a smartphone worldwide, shoppers are well-primed for the AR experience and ready to scan, snap, share and buy.

Navigating a sale

We already use Google Maps to plan and navigate journeys, leaving home with just a destination postcode and phone. Arriving at a store, it is now possible to search for an item with a few taps and swipes to receive information on product availability and an internal route planner to take you directly to the right shelf. Scanning smart product labels, shoppers can effectively self-serve to find out basic information like matching items, price, offers and alternative styles, freeing up sales agents to be more productive. Imagine choosing an item before legitimately popping it in your pocket or bag and leaving without the hassle of queuing to pay – well that’s already possible in the Amazon Go store in Washington state where their “just walk out” technology does what it says on the tin. Amazon customers swipe in and out through barriers – like at the train station – and simply walk out with the desired goods. Their Amazon account is billed automatically, and theft has not been an issue thus far.

Blending the physical world with the digital, apps can now bring items virtually into your home, as IKEA Place has done. This eliminates the uncertainty of whether a large or expensive item will fit or suit your room. Wrestling with a tape measure will be replaced with a few taps and swipes, and no doubt the rate of disagreements between couples will also decline! (See these new tools in action here.)

Convenience store

Making the shopping experience convenient is key to maximising sales. Supermarkets currently display handy recipe pamphlets so you can walk around the store sourcing ingredients, but AR can take that to a whole new level. Using a phone or in-store device, AR will let you search through a database of hundreds of recipes for inspiration or to tailor to dietary preferences and then use geolocation technology to find the shortest route to ingredients (obviously the app already knows what’s in stock). This would appeal to most consumer groups. Whilst you may think it would hinder browsing time and impulse buys, timely messaging pops up along with offers, suggestions and tips (e.g. stock up on pasta) to boost sales. With AR, the supermarket and convenience store suddenly become super convenient. At times, it’s having too much choice that is the barrier to sales. The wine aisle, for example, can be too overwhelming to navigate. Apps will be able to detect if a shopper has been browsing the same aisle for a specified duration, say two minutes, and serve a helpful prompt. With scannable smart labels, wine bottles come to life with useful or entertaining content about pairing, serving suggestions or stories behind the brand – certainly a potential talking point over dinner.

Try before you buy

In fashion retail, the traditional changing room scenario can be fraught enough to make you discard the lot and leave empty handed. The AR ‘magic mirror’ is disrupting this, projecting a computer-generated image of garments overlaid on the customer’s profile – a virtual changing room. Granted it won’t give a feel for the fit, but it’s a fun, stress-free way to sample products and is more interactive than online shopping. It would particularly benefit those with physical limitations or those juggling shopping with children. Accessories, shoes, matching items, stock levels, colour variants etc. can all be added to increase spend and enhance the shopping experience. Customers will soon expect the same experience everywhere, keeping brands on their toes. Timberland and Topshop have already begun. Sampling make-up or hairstyles works in the same way, as luxury cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury has done in London’s Westfield. As the magic mirror says, “Look here darling.”

Real-time analysis

Real-time analysis is not only possible online. Its moving in-store and there’s a lot of insight hiding in the changing room that retailers don’t get to capture. For example, with Zebra SmartLens®, RFID items can be tracked around the store to reveal findings like items taken into a fitting room, conversion rate from a fitting room, what is a snap decision garment, which dress this season is appealing on the hanger but often left behind in the changing room, and of course what stock needs reordering and replenishment in store. Glued to their phones, shoppers are primed for label scanning with the functionality to share or recommend to a friend or on social media, and the retailer would be able to drill into this insight. AR is moving from “PR stunt” to truly enhancing the customer experience and providing retailer insights. To stay competitive, brands need more than an online presence. They need a personalised, interactive and helpful offering. To avoid approaching AR in a gimmick capacity, it’s essential to have a clear objective in mind, whether that’s increasing awareness, inviting exploration or making a conversion.

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