August 2018
Text by Adriana Blum

Image: © Scharfsinn86/

Adriana Blum is a senior mobile developer and technical lead at Iflexion with 13+ years of experience in designing and implementing software applications for renowned companies. Currently, Adriana is actively researching the capabilities and applications of AR and VR in the mobile industry to create innovative mobile solutions for outstanding user experience.



Augmented Reality revolutionizes the shopping experience

Ecommerce and retail have taken a seat in the front row in implementing Augmented Reality technology. Many well-known brands have come up with innovative ways for an immersive customer experience. Here are some of their use cases.

Augmented Reality may have burst into mainstream awareness with the release of Pokémon GO, but since then it has blossomed into a technology with some serious potential to solve business problems. In traditional retail and ecommerce, AR adoption is booming, and many well-known and influential brands are launching mobile AR apps or integrating the technology in-store.

The following proven use cases are all well past the speculative stage and have been put into practice by both online and offline retailers around the world.

1. Letting shoppers try before they buy

If ecommerce ever had a drawback, it has been the difficulty consumers had in determining if their purchases would be a good fit. This applies equally to buying clothes and personal items as it does to fittings and fixtures for the home. In any case, it is an issue for shoppers and retailers alike, increasing the likelihood that goods will be returned, which is not always a simple process in the ecommerce environment.

Augmented Reality has perhaps found its most practical application in solving this problem, both for digital retailers and their customers. An AR app can enable customers to select items from an ecommerce range and superimpose them in 3D on the customers’ own images (in the case of clothes or accessories) or onto their smartphone camera view of their home interior.

Different colors, sizes, and designs can thus be tried out via AR, reducing the chances of the customer finding a product unsatisfactory when delivered. Aside from reducing the number of returned items, the “try before you buy” experience also brings an element of fun and immersion to the shopping-from-home experience, and can help customers engage more deeply with your brand.

2. Engaging with virtual fitting rooms

The use of Augmented Reality for the try-before-you-buy experience is by no means limited to ecommerce. In fact, many traditional retailers are adopting AR specifically for this purpose in their brick-and-mortar shops. And the retailers enjoying the greatest success with this method are combining AR software with in-store fixtures such as LCD screens and mirrors.

The following retailers have all adopted Augmented Reality try-and-buy facilities in their outlets:

  • Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo has installed LCD mirrors that let shoppers try on garments virtually
  • Adidas, Cisco, and Gap have all set up smart AR-enabled mirrors
  • Topshop has implemented a virtual fitting room with its Topshop Kinect AR dressing rooms
  • Shiseido uses in-store AR mirrors for letting customers try makeup products virtually

3. Facilitating in-store navigation

Sometimes your customers might need a little AR assistance even before they get to look at your products in-store. For example, as we reported in a recent article on AR in marketing [1], Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, which operates stores averaging 112,000 square feet in area, launched an Augmented Reality app that shoppers can use upon entering their store.

Lowe’s shoppers can begin by searching online for the products they want to buy and compiling a list in the brand’s app. When customers are ready, the AR technology takes over and guides them through the store with turn-by-turn directions on their device screens. Not only does the app direct shoppers to the products they want, it also optimizes their route through the store, helping them to shop quickly and efficiently.

It should be noted that the Lowe’s app requires Google’s Tango sensor to operate, and as there are only one or two smartphone models equipped with the necessary hardware, Lowe’s actually provides customers with the devices on loan for the time they spend in the store. However, as IoT technologies such as beacons and sensors improve, it may become possible to provide similar navigation facilities without computer vision-equipped devices.

4. Encouraging footfall in stores

With all the competition from ecommerce, it makes sense for traditional retailers to leverage technology wherever they can to keep people shopping in their outlets. Here too, Augmented Reality can help. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven, for example, is capturing the attention of movie fans in its first-ever AR app experience [2].

The app, based on the popular Deadpool movie, encourages users to visit their nearest 7-Eleven convenience store to hunt for scannable codes to unlock loyalty bonuses and activities. The app also integrates with social media, prompting customers to share their interactions with other Deadpool fans online.

Of course, the whole idea of the 7-Eleven app is to get people inside its stores, a critical goal of any retailer in an age when people can conveniently shop from home. In fact, what’s good for convenience stores is just as good for luxury brands, as Hugo Boss demonstrated in 2009 with AR window displays for its Christmas campaign.

Through specially distributed handouts and advertisements in display windows of Hugo Boss’s London stores, fashion shoppers were treated to personalized, interactive runway shows on the big screens. After that, they could go to Augmented Reality stations inside the outlets, where the fun continued with blackjack games promising generous discounts on luxury fashion items.

While the scale and direction of these two examples are very different, the end goal is the same: attracting more customers to the stores. And what better way to do so than to create a larger-than-life, interactive experience with Augmented Reality technology?

Research by Retail Perceptions revealed that the majority (71 percent) of participants in a study said they would shop more often with retailers that offered Augmented Reality [3].

5. Slaking the thirst for information

According to Salsify Consumer Research, 77 percent of shoppers today consider a mobile device as an essential aid to any shopping trip, and will use a phone or tablet actively in-store to gather on-the-spot information about products they see on the shelves [4].

Product reviews, images, and price comparisons all figure in digital showrooming, and retailers are shifting from a negative to a positive attitude toward the practice. Augmented Reality is a made-to-measure technology for delivering instant product information, as shoppers only need to point their devices at items on retailers’ shelves to have the data they desire shown immediately on the screen.

American Apparel is just one of the many retailers actively encouraging consumers to roam their stores with phones in hand. Their AR app has transformed retail experience for shoppers at the fashion chain: Again, it only takes pointing the phone at the shelf signage to gain immediate access to a range of information, including:

  • detailed product descriptions
  • colors, sizes, and stock availability
  • consumer reviews relating to the product

Meanwhile Tesco, a leading UK grocery store chain, offers detailed nutritional data for health-conscious shoppers via its aptly named Discover app. Using AR software developed by IBM, Discover provides on-screen product information using image recognition, alleviating the need to include special AR targets, or “markers”, on product packaging.

6. Building emotional connections and stimulating purchases

Back in 2012, Andrew Pohlmann and Caroline Winnett of the Nielsen Company shared research findings on emotions in purchasing [5]. Those findings revealed that around 90 percent of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously and that, therefore, retailers could improve profitability by addressing the subconscious emotions of consumers.

The simple fact is that emotion plays an important role in purchasing decisions, and because of its ability to stimulate, excite and energize, AR is a perfect vehicle for establishing emotional connections between shoppers and products.

Emotionally perceptive retailers are well aware of how AR can influence purchasing decisions. Take Lego, for example. The world-famous maker of hobby bricks has transformed its traditional paper catalog into an animated 3D world of exploration using Augmented Reality. After downloading Lego’s AR app, users can view the specially marked catalog pages using their mobile devices. A page mark triggers the AR application and the page comes to life before the viewer’s eyes. It’s not hard to imagine how the experience might trigger the emotions of juniors (and some adults too), create subconscious connections, and stimulate the desire to purchase and recreate the AR dioramas in reality.

7. Blurring the boundaries between ecommerce and traditional retail

Some AR apps even go so far as to transform brick-and-mortar retail stores into digital shopping portals. They create traditional-style stores out of thin air for the ultimate Augmented Reality experience, complete with stocked shelves where consumers can browse for the goods they want.

Two companies that have taken this approach are footwear brand Airwalk, and Yihaodian, China’s largest online grocery supermarket. Both enterprises use Augmented Reality apps to create pseudo-stores in outdoor locations and hence expand reach and presence in hyper-local markets, while also giving shoppers a fresh and novel experience.

A seamless online or offline shopping experience or pop-up stores using AR are only two of the ways to blend ecommerce and traditional retail. Other companies that are already operating traditional retail stores are developing apps to let customers use their stores as showrooms and give them the option to view product information, place orders, and pay online – all via Augmented Reality.

8. Gamifying the shopping experience

Creating Augmented Reality stores in parks and other public places is certainly an endeavor that could be described as gamification, but it also may be too big a step for many retail companies. However, there is a lot to be said about generating entertaining experiences for customers, and Augmented Reality offers a great platform for doing so, as the popularity of Pokémon GO clearly demonstrated.

In fact, the Pokémon GO craze was a phenomenon that inspired innovators in many industries, including retail, to think about gamification as a way to increase profitability.

Of course, retail gamification has been around for a while, but Augmented Reality adds a new immersive dimension to the concept. You can create AR experiences for both online and traditional stores, or as more games like Pokémon GO emerge, you can even tie your brand into them as some retailers did at the height of the PG frenzy, offering discounts for consumers who caught imaginary creatures in the immediate vicinity of their outlets.

Reality is no longer retailers' constraint

Unlike the closely related concept of Virtual Reality, AR does not isolate the user from the real world. Instead, it adds new dimensions to the physical environment, making it extremely versatile and practical as a way to solve problems and satisfy consumers' needs.

Perhaps that’s why the range of use cases for AR in retail and ecommerce is growing, and why your brand might want to consider adding it to your technology agenda sooner rather than later. After all, the majority of consumers want AR to be part of the shopping experience. Purchasing decisions are on the line, so it could be a mistake to remain constrained by old-fashioned standard reality when the augmented version seems to deliver so much more.






[4] The Consumer Code 2017 - Consumer Research eBook.pdf

[5] for Selling to the Subconscious_Caroline Winnett_NeuroFocus.pdf