Shopping in AR: A look into retail’s future

Osmond Chia - Feb 23, 2019, 5:37 am CST
Shopping in AR: A look into retail’s future

Visitors at Fitzrovia in London were surprised by a store that contained little more than a big Snapchat logo. Scan that logo however, and your phone launches Snapchat, which fills the seemingly empty store with 3D renders of LEGO Wear apparel using its AR technology. The app overlays the white walls of the room with LEGO Wear items and characters that usher you around the digital store. Visitors can tap on shelves and racks and browse through the new line of clothes and buy items right from their phones.

While AR shopping still much in its infancy, digital reality ventures like these get you wondering how retail will be look like in years to come. Besides LEGO, massive brands like Amazon, Ikea and Target are pumping huge amounts of money into this new frontier of shopping, showing the promise and the inevitability of this medium. Here’s how it’ll change things for you:

How it works

We’ve seen several implementations of digital reality technologies in the past few years, each offering its own draws.

Augmented Reality, which is what LEGO is doing, overlays digital elements on to your camera footage, via your phone. Users usually have to scan their surroundings, so that the AI can size 3D objects to scale. Objects can then interact with the environment and arranged accordingly. Ikea have used this with their Ikea Place app, allowing users to arrange digital furniture, animated to scale, around their own rooms, to help them see if it’s the right fit and look for their homes.

There’s also Virtual Reality. Instead of augmenting your surroundings as the title suggests, VR usually requires you to put on a mask to fully immerse yourself in a digital environment – it’s pretty much The Matrix: Retail. Alibaba, and Ikea again, have welcomed this technology, creating entire stores digitally and letting customers shop from the comfort of their homes.

Shop anywhere

You can probably see how this technology benefits you as a consumer.

It lets you shop pretty much anywhere as everything you need is on your mobile device. That means you can browse stores from the comfort of your couch instead of heading outside to malls.

AR shopping is perhaps most convenient, bringing digital elements to your reality through footage from your camera. However, we’ve still yet to see how companies deal with the rest of the clutter that exists in our own rooms.

VR on the other hand may be a little more troublesome due to the mask you have to don. But it means complete immersion, experiencing the store just as the makers intended it.

Lower costs

A benefit that’s exciting both sellers and buyers alike are the inevitable lower costs.

It eliminates the need for physical stores, salesmen and their wages and other costs that come with operating outlets. While it may cost quite a bit to develop the apps, these eventual savings will surely outweigh the expense.

For the customer, the reduction is cost is passed on with cheaper goods (we say this in an ideal world). Who wouldn’t want that?

Personalised, and constantly changing

As it’s digital, storeowners can constantly modify the look of digital stores. Halloween round the corner? Change the colours of the walls and hang up some 3D pumpkins and animated ghosts. Christmas next? Drop in some fairy lights, and how about some snow? Environments can be changed constantly, without incurring the manhours or the cost. It’s an exciting time to be a consumer.

With devices able to track your data, a key benefit here is your virtual shopping experience is personalised. Loyalty programs and other discounts can be offered to those who visit often, and items can be suggested based on visitors’ preferences and browsing history.

While it may sound scary that so much of your data is being picked out, what you get in exchange is efficient and fast shopping.

“Testing” products first

We’ve discussed how furniture stores let you digitally overlay products to “test out” in our own homes. Amazon also lets you inspect 3D renders of common items on their mobile app, so you can examine the product while deciding.

The similar goes for clothing as well. Clothes retailer Gap have designed virtual fitting rooms that let users test out clothes on a 3D mannequin, which is sized to their dimensions that are typed into the app. This will surely speed up the process of tailoring and also make online shopping more reliable as clothes can be “tried out” before purchase. It’s really a win-win situation for both buyers and sellers here.

The end of physical stores?

With so many practical benefits to AR shopping, it must sound like an absolute nightmare for anyone who treasures trips down to their local mall, the thrill of browsing through actual products, and running your hands past clothes, hoping to find one that fits you perfectly.

The good news is, physical stores aren’t going anywhere – and companies know this. The increase in virtual users could just mean stores hold less stock, but the products still need to be displayed in stores to show off the brand and also give consumers the chance to actually see these items in the flesh. It’s still a crucial part of shopping that’s not going anywhere.

AR also still requires a physical environment for it to interact with, and companies would very much prefer it to be their own stores, as it reduces clutter and other noise that affects the experience. Zara’s efforts show how AR becomes a part of the shopping experience by incorporating digital elements into their shop, instead of rendering physical stores useless.

In truth, AR technology is still years away from being adopted by the mainstream. Apps are still rather choppy, battery-intensive and unreliable, but it does paint an exciting picture of what shopping may look like soon. Brace yourselves.

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