Augmented reality (AR) holds exciting promise for retailers, despite marketers still being ill-equipped to deliver it, and technology and privacy laws still presenting challenges.
To do AR – and artificial intelligence and virtual reality – well, retailers and marketers must:
- Improve the convenience of shopping from home and allow shoppers to test products
- Offer the opportunity to envision products and add value to customer experiences
- Power storytelling and build trust in brands’ claims
- Personify online communications with more authentic elements
Here are four examples of tech done superbly well in a retail environment:
VR headsets: envision what you can’t see
Virtual reality is another contentious technology development. It is often written off as being relevant only to gamers but, from a retailing perspective, it can be a powerful sales tool and should not be discounted.
When sent to architecture firms to trial at no cost, VR headsets are often purchased. Steve Fox, principal of Australian architecture firm Architectus, said developing 3D designs allows clients to tap into the sensory experience of VR and provide feedback earlier in the process, reducing mistakes, ambiguous communication, and unresolved conflicts. Roomy is a service in the Netherlands helping realtors and design lovers virtually stage homes, saving on listing time, and undoubtedly encouraging them to emotionally invest in property.
An immersive VR experience was offered to entertain passengers travelling across The English Channel between Paris and London on the Eurostar train. Eurostar Odyssey is one of the earliest examples of an on-board, virtual reality experience for young people and those who simply enjoy escapism.
The VR experience replaces the top of the train with a glass ceiling, to make you really feel underwater in the English Channel. Experiential marketing at its best.
AR in your home
As fuel prices rise and people remain uneasy about leaving home because of Covid-19, there is increasing interest in meeting customers online at home. Augmented reality allows shoppers to try a range of products virtually, from beauty to accessories to a new pair of winter boots, without leaving their living room.
New Zealand department store Smith & Caughey’s has adopted photo-realistic makeup simulation technology to allow customers to test makeup products digitally.
Managing director Edward Caughey made the announcement by sharing pictures of himself on LinkedIn wearing different shades of lipstick and asking his connections “Pink, purple or red?”
The virtual try-on technology has been well received. Smith & Caughey’s has seen double-digit growth on relevant SKUs, which is impressive in a Covid-19 environment, with mask-wearing still widespread in New Zealand.
Build trust and back up your brand claims
Amidst a rise in fake news, dubious sustainability claims, and fairwashing (companies faking fair trade practices), distrust is now most people’s default emotion and can hurt retailers in the pocket.
VR can help tell the origin story of products, building trust by backing up claims through storytelling. Take rice brand Uncle Ben’s as an example – it created an immersive on-pack AR experience, taking shoppers along the harvest journey from “farm to fork”.
Other brand promises, no matter how frivolous, can come to life through fun and visually appealing point-of-sale retail promotions in-store. Coco Pops partnered with AR technology company Blippar in the Middle East to bring to life a jungle environment where kids could learn about wildlife – and chocolate. This proved that the cereal brand really did bring chocolatey fun to breakfast.
Part man, part machine
AI has increasingly been applied to create realistic digital characters. In the hands of marketers, a tool like this certainly holds appeal, for its power to connect in less judgmental, more empathetic ways with customers and quickly earn their trust – even if researchers at places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology have raised legal and ethical issues about its use.
AI startup Soul Machines enables organisations to make the customer interface with technology more authentic, using ‘digital people’ with a wide range of expressions. Their ‘digital brain’ learns by watching and listening to people through their microphone and camera. Soul Machines even created a prototype of Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am programmed to speak additional languages appealing to international fans.
Retailers could certainly benefit from an online sales assistant that responds to emotional cues and speaks 12 different languages. Soul Machines also claims its skin care consultant Yumi doubled product sales.
As companies vie to harness technology to improve consumer experience and profitability, some trends will inevitably hold as the new industry standards and others will be temporary fads. Linking the successful examples highlighted herein are a focus on convenience for the customer – using new technologies to reduce friction in the purchasing experience.