How To Use Augmented Reality For Retail

Augmented reality is frequently discussed in the context of social media, and increasingly so in ecommerce, but fewer conversations have centered around the possibilities created when pairing physical retail with AR. However, designating AR as digitally focused only ignores the exceptional experience brands can offer customers by merging digital and physical touch points, and misses out on substantial returns to be gained. Augmented reality is a tool most every retailer should know about, and consider as a potential aid in their marketing efforts.

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is an interactive experience in which users can view and engage with a computer generated object in their current real world environment. Unlike virtual reality, AR experiences do not inherently require specialized hardware or equipment to access. WebAR has opened the door for high fidelity, engaging AR experiences to be accessed by almost any smart device. Scaling these experiences has also become more time and cost effective, as 3D models developed for product visualization or 3D configuration may be used to create an augmented reality experience.

Augmented Reality for Ecommerce

The application of augmented reality in ecommerce has many forms, ranging from social filters on single applications, to full scale products being transported to a potential buyer’s home via apps or webAR. Brands such as Target, Home Depot, and Wayfair have integrated AR capabilities into not only their branded apps, but have rolled out AR capabilities on their websites to deliver a consistent and compelling experience across channels. Apparel and beauty brands have also been eager to leverage AR for virtual try-ons. Beauty retailer, Ulta, saw 43% incremental reach when deploying shoppable beauty lenses on Snap, with over $6 million of attributed revenue and 56% higher return on ad spend (ROAS) compared to their non-shoppable lenses on the platform.

Among the key innovations driving the adoption of AR in ecommerce is the power of webAR, which removes the need for users to download an app to launch the experience, and instead relies on the capabilities of consumers’ most popular smart devices to recognize, launch, and control an AR experience. The investments in AR are not only for show, consumers and retailers alike are seeing and sharing the benefits of AR enabled shopping.

Performance Indicators of AR for Ecommerce

  • 77% of consumers prefer to view product variations in AR

  • 71% of buyers say they would shop more if they could experience products in AR

  • 63% of buyers say AR improves their shopping experience

  • AR enabled products drive 2X the average order value

  • Buyers are willing to pay 20% more for products they can experience in AR

Augmented Reality In Physical Retail

If buyers are able to see and touch products in-store, where is the value in adding augmented reality to physical retail? It may seem an unwise investment at first glance, but the value is in fact two fold.

Most consumers begin their shopping journey online; in fact 74% of buyers research products online before shopping in store. Branded AR experiences enable buyers to discover, explore, and evaluate products in an interactive way before they ever set foot in the store. These immersive experiences promote a more confident purchase decision, and remove the friction points in the customer journey. Particularly where there is significant effort on the buyer’s part to visit a store, conforming their beliefs about and desire for a specific product prior to making the trip helps ensure a positive experience with the brand.

AR may also be deployed in-store to further consumer education and decision making once they make it to the store. For large products such as furniture or appliances, it is rare for all product variations to be available on the sales floor; however most consumers want to see a product as it will appear before making a major purchase. AR allows stores to provide scale models of all product variations available at the customer’s convenience and without taking up floor space. These experiences may also include variations not currently available in-store, but available for order and/or delivery.

Beauty brands have also leveraged AR in-store for an improved buying experience. Another investment by Ulta, the purchase of GlamSt and the creation of GlamLab, allows buyers to explore colors through virtual try-on both in store and at their leisure. Ulta saw over 19 million shade try-ons via GlamLab in 2020, 5x the 2019 value, and has seen continued usage of the platform even as buyers return to stores. Ulta’s partnership with Target has produced new opportunities for virtual try-in in brick and mortar stores, as signage has been rolled out to encourage buyers to use GlamLab in-store to find their perfect shades.

Four Ways to Use AR in Physical Retail

Fully Catalog Viewability

Showcase all product variations through an immersive experience buyers can access via their smart device

Quick Instructions

Give buyers a clear picture of the time and effort (or lack thereof) needed to assemble a product. Provide tips on how to get started, and provide information on other materials or tools they will need.

Virtual Try-Ons

Improve the buyer experience while reducing returns by allowing shoppers to see exactly how a shade will look on their face, or how a piece of apparel will look on their body.

Recommended Products

Combine the power of artificial intelligence and AR to showcase products that pair well with those the buyer is already exploring. For example, if they are viewing an outdoor sofa, enable an AR experience to allow them to view the rest of the collection or explore tips on how to style their latest purchase.

Retail sales influenced by AR product visualization are expected to reach nearly $60 billion by 2025. The growth opportunities for AR for ecommerce and retail are massive, and the value created for brands and buyers alike is indisputable. AR is and will continue to shape the face of retail in the coming years, and we are excited to be part of the ride.