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How Augmented Reality Holds the Key to the Future of Retail in the Age of New Normal

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Dmytro Spilka
Dmytro Spilka
Dmytro is a CEO at Solvid, a creative, long-form content creation agency based in London. Founder of Pridicto. His work has been published in Shopify, IBM, Entrepreneur, BuzzSumo, Campaign Monitor and Tech Radar.

The age of the new normal is upon us. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, life has altered and shifted into a new paradigm of online shopping and working. Working from home has been encouraged to help reduce the spread of the virus, birthing new consumer behavior, including a spike in online shopping as non-essential retail stores were forced to close.

As lockdowns begin to ease thanks to the development of vaccines, retail is slowly starting to heal its wounds. In most parts of the world, non-essential retail has now opened. However, consumers are still constantly reminded of the devastating effects of the virus as it continues to sweep across the globe, causing catastrophe in countries like India.

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(Image source: The Economist)

The effects of the virus have caused long-lasting consumer behavior trends, including the online shop movement. To flourish in the age of this new normal and to deal with the wariness of consumers not willing to go to a shop to buy products and retail, we’ll need to turn to technology as a means to get sales back up to pre-covid figures. Technology is driving transformation in the industry, and some technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) hold the key to success in the new normal.

AR Technology and Retail 

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As AR technology becomes more available and affordable, its application has been on the rise. It became an essential retail technology as it gives consumers a try before buying experience virtually. The IKEA furniture app is an excellent example of this, letting customers see how furniture can fit into their home space before buying it. High-end luxury designers such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton have also been one of the many fashion houses to incorporate AR experiences in their apparel.

Hygiene and safety are now at the forefront of every retailer’s mind as non-essential and retail begin to open, making them a top priority. In response to the pandemic, many retailers have changed their policies, closing fitting rooms and communal areas meaning shoppers are now unable to try clothes on in fitting rooms, eradicating that significant try-before-you-buy experience.

One sector of retail that has been hit hard is the beauty retailers, who now prohibit customers from testing makeup products on their skin. In these cases, retailers like beauty giant Sephora are tuning to AR to assist customers, allowing them to test out numerous products digitally and assist them in their buying process. AR will help convert interested shoppers into paying customers allowing them to try on shades to match their skin tones virtually. 

AR in retail

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Since the pandemic, a beauty tool by Ulta known as GLAMlab, has seen a surge in demand with seven-fold engagement and now houses a catalog of more than 50 million shades of foundation, which have been swatched digitally. A 2019 global survey conducted by Neilsen saw consumers list AR as one of the top technologies they are looking forward to in the future to help assist them with their daily lives. 

Over half show a willingness to use AR to access products. Interest in AR, which was once seen as gimmicky with no real-life application, will now be capable of solving fundamental pain points for consumers. E-commerce platform Shopify also released data showing customers showed a 94% higher conversion rate with AR products than those without.

Considering the want for AR, retailers are beginning to use the technology to reimagine the digital shopping experience by creating virtual shop fronts. Using smartphones or smart eyeglasses, consumers are able to step inside an AR-imagined dressing room. Companies that manage to integrate their AR apps into eyewear have a chance of tapping into the massive market, which is set to increase to $210.8 billion by 2025. 

Using AR like this also means businesses can continue operating, and making sales, unlike clothing retailer Primark which suffered in the pandemic due to a lack of online presence. Allowing customers to buy this way also gives retail real-time data and information to help them make informed decisions. Trends in purchases will help brands identify popular stocks and allow them to update their selection based on the needs continually and wants of their consumer. 

How retailers can meet new customer expectations

As mentioned earlier, consumers today expect more from retailers, which the pandemic has only accelerated. For years, retailers have spent massive amounts of time and money on strategies to build physical and online sales channels to engage with their customers. Understanding what their consumers want will help retailers understand what steps to take to enhance their customer experiences.

Relocating funds in their business from physical stores to online will be a bold but most needed move. Improving and engaging with an audience on their digital channels is a must, which requires them to spend a bit of money. With increased investment in online marketing, retailers can expect better turnover rates. Paying close attention to what customers are searching for will help to improve the shop ability of their online sales channels through keyword performance. 

App downloads have also increased 11% from January to April 2020. Retailers with an established mobile app have seen record levels of downloads, and augmenting direct customer interaction benefits the most.

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The expectation from customers is also rising. Measuring vital website metrics, including speed, delivery times, and stability, will make a difference in sales for retailers. Optimizing pages for digital shopping is a must. Making the highest-selling product easier to find will help the customer find the products easily, creating a seamless experience. High-functioning landing pages and consistent marketing messages can also help convince customers. A large number of customers are now engaging through mobile devices, and retailers must ensure all their digital channels are integrated and offer the same and consistent experience throughout all platforms.

With or without the pandemic, there is no doubt that technology will still ultimately change the process of retail and shopping. The pandemic may have accelerated its adoption by a few years, but this is the fruit of retail. The challenges onset by the pandemic means we will now begin to see AR and even VR used as standard, everyday technology to help fit in with consumer behavior, and we’re here for it!

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