AI, VR, AR; anagrams designed to terrify the old and brainwash the young, but for better or worse these digital integrations to everyday life are now seemingly inevitable, and their involvement in retail is no different. In a three blog series we’re going to look at how each of these are, and will continue to affect the retail space. Exciting!

Augmented Reality is up first. In simple terms, AR is basically all ways in which digital graphics can be overlaid onto the real-world environment, similar to Pokémon Go.  Since its creation in 1992 by a group in the U.S Air Force, AR (also called mixed reality) has been used by many others in almost all conceivable applications; gaming, military, education; etc. There’s no doubt that as the necessary tech advances, so too will the presence of AR, with some already heralding the start of the “death of smartphones” (seems a bit premature), as AR-enhanced headsets set poised to take the crown ‘King of Time-Wasting’. Such normalisation would see AR fully integrated into everyday life; driving, socialisation, even, retail…..

source: Niantic

AR in Retail:

Virtual try-on and product preview are currently the biggest uses of AR in e-retail. Snap inc. are big pioneers of this technology, starting off with shoes, glasses ,and make-up try-ons using our smartphone cameras. Having watched Carolina Arguelles, Snap’s Head of AR Business Strategy, speak at Retail Week Live, it’s clear they have ambitions to dominate all sectors of apparel e-commerce, acquiring several start-ups to enhance their offering, such as 3D visuals that respond to real-world lighting or full-body outfit try-ons.

source: Snap Inc.

In a similar vein, virtual try-before-you-buy is hitting homeware retail. Now, customers can see how furniture will look in their homes via 3D-models on their smartphone cameras. Dulux are doing this amazingly by partnering with a tech company called String to allow shoppers to see paint on their walls before a drop has been bought. IKEA have also released an app where users can see their finest Swedish chairs in app, here’s our real intern next to a virtual chair, cool:

Augmented Reality mirrors are also bringing the “virtual try-on” experience in-store (we’ve really come full circle at this point), allowing shoppers to look at their reflection as if they were wearing the clothes that they’re considering buying. There are already several tech companies providing AR Mirrors and these have been trialed in some massive retailers such as Ralph Lauren, Zara and Timberland.

At the moment these features can probably be seen as pretty gimmicky, in place as a marketing tool rather than to outright streamline the customer experience, but as AR becomes more common-place, and as we start to experience it with glasses on our head, rather than phones in our pocket it will undoubtedly become a much larger part of the retailer experience. Virtual sales assistants, instant stock checks, you an imagine it.  Next time we’ll look at the next step on the spectrum of digital-visual integration; VR and the Metaverse, until then Hasta La Vista, Baby.