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Augmented Reality: the future of retail?

15/06/2017 – Science & Technology / Retail / Augmented Reality / AR / Actinic / eCommerce

Augmented reality promises to revolutionise in-store customer experience, thereby presenting retailers with a unique opportunity to save their physical stores, according to Marc Schillaci, CEO of eCommerce solutions provider Actinic.


In-store customer experience has always followed the same formula. Customers enter the premises, browse through items, and purchase those they like. If a sales assistant is available and answers questions with a smile, the customer will enjoy the experience. Nonetheless, attracting fewer and fewer customers, retail is losing ground and is in danger of going underground altogether.


In 2016, US$6.1 billion was spent on augmented reality (AR) technologies, with investment expected to double over the course of 2017, to reach US$13.9bn. Average projected year-on-year growth between 2015 and 2020 is set even higher, at 190 per cent. Current trends suggest augmented reality is going to be a huge success – users want new experiences, and there are many in-store.


A unique opportunity


Augmented reality will add a dimension to the in-store experience: customers’ individual situations will be taken into account, and tailored offers will be designed to meet their specific needs. Customers are encouraged to take pictures of themselves, describe their personal situation, their expectations, and everything flows effortlessly from there.


Augmented reality redefines commercial basics – firstly in terms of the customer path, allowing for step-by-step customer assistance throughout their visit, and original, personalised and value-enhancing ways of promoting items. Customers see a virtual sales advisor on their mobile phones and follow him through the aisles. 


Another major change AR will usher in relates to item information, offering the potential for more personalisation, from more general to more detailed information; and recommendations in all areas.


AR might revolutionise how we experience items prior to purchase: a simulation helps the customer get a feel for how he could use the product he wants to buy. The customer sees himself using the item and gets to compare different options on his screen in order to help him make the selection.


Suggestions and advice is another area for AR innovation: a wide range of useful tips can be shared, including new products, complementary items, special deals, and available variations, for example. 


One step beyond


The latest developments in innovation confirm that augmented reality is here to stay. The technological components (sensors, gps, beacon) and software components (artificial intelligence, facial recognition) already exist; they just require assembling. All such services will be rendered through smartphones and will grow to include large – usually tactile – screens, and sometimes virtual reality headsets. Sales assistants will retain their functions, guiding customers to make informed choices, as they did before.


Given the speed at which technology is developing and the consumer thirst for new experiences, AR looks set to develop at lightning speed. It is, without a doubt, the future of retail, and will inspire brands to find novel ways of attracting, conquering and retaining customers.


E-Commerce should aim to promote this new in-store purchasing experience – both sales channels will complement and reinforce each other.

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