Bringing Augmented Reality to Your Retail App

The article was updated on October 20, 2021.

The retail industry has been among the most eager adopters of cutting-edge tech, pioneering the transformation in warehousing, logistics, marketing, and customer service. Consumers, however, are getting more demanding.

In 2021, they are expecting immersive technologies to be a part of their shopping experiences. As much as 69% of customers today expect to use AR\VR as they shop, and retailers are doing their best to adjust and implement this immersive tech. Before the pandemic, the market for augmented reality in retail had reached $10 billion and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 46,6% until 2027.

In this blog, we will talk about the impact of AR in retail, explore the examples of AR-enabled eCommerce apps, and uncover the important aspects of AR app development. Read on to learn more!

How augmented reality works

Augmented Reality can be experienced across a wide range of hardware: handheld devices (smartphones and tablets), wearables, PCs and laptops, TVs, digital mirrors, connected devices such as glasses, head-mounted displays, lenses and even AR fitting rooms. The difference between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is that AR doesn’t replace the real world but “augments” it with additional virtual objects.

In the case of handheld devices, AR uses the device’s camera, computer vision technology, GPS, compass and accelerometer to gather information about the surrounding real-world environment and then overlays additional contextual information (in 2D or 3D) on top of that environment image.

AR benefits for retailers

AR application in retail offers a lot of opportunities for businesses to increase customer satisfaction while reducing expenses.

Below is the list of benefits that AR shopping has for businesses.

ar-benefits-in-retail

Boosting sales

AR technology enables customers to try out products virtually before they buy them – that is, they can see exactly how clothing will fit them or how new furniture will look in their home or office environment. Regardless of whether the customer shops online or offline, AP helps reduce the customer journey and increases store conversions.

Minimizing returns

AR helps customers avoid disappointment and choose the products that suit them best. Hence, the return rates tend to plummet for both online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Increasing customer engagement

The virtual experience that augmented reality in retail offers ignites customers’ interest in products while providing all the additional product details they might need. Informed customers tend to come back and shop for more products whenever they get the chance.

Creating social media content

The AR experience gives customers something to talk about and share on social media. The social media comments and discussions that ensue help increase product and brand awareness.

Collecting data on customer preferences

The info about the products that customers choose to try through AR-enhanced shopping speaks volumes about their interests, preferences, and patterns of shopping behavior. Retailers may use these insights to deliver personalized advertising and marketing campaigns.

Delivering a contactless experience

In a post-pandemic world, the applications of AR in retail serve to eliminate the contamination risks and the concerns about hygiene.

Reducing staffing expenses

AR app offers users exhaustive information about the items they are interested in. Moreover, augmented reality in retail helps them with store navigation, which reduces the need for human shop assistants to a necessary minimum.

Building customer loyalty

A better customer experience accounts for higher customer loyalty and helps audiences build stronger relationships with brands.

As you can see, there are many ways how companies may benefit from using AR in retail. In the next section, we will talk about the applications of AR in retail stores and online.

Use cases for AR in retail

There are two fundamentally different approaches for implementing AR in the retail industry: in-store and out-of-store. The first would involve a consumer actually being in the store or just outside it and experience AR through handheld devices, wearables such as AR glasses, or special AR hardware including smart interactive mirrors, fitting rooms, shop windows, etc.

The Out-of-store approach involves experiencing AR from another physical location via e-commerce mobile or web apps. Of course the best strategy would be to combine both in-store and out-of-store approaches, the so-called “omnichannel” strategy. Not all retailers, however, can afford to install in-store AR hardware, such as mirrors, and many rely solely on an online presence without the hassle of running a traditional “brick-and-mortar” store.

Let’s now explore how both approaches work, by taking a closer look at the examples of augmented reality in retail.

1. Space visualization and virtual tours

AR technology enables customers to walk through a store or a property before paying a physical visit to the location. The use of augmented reality enables them to get a feel of the place and learn about the essential details beforehand.

AR retail apps like Magicplan, for example, offer customers an AR-enabled residential property design planner allowing them to see how their homes will look after all the renovations are complete. Shoppers can even take a virtual walk through their renewed residences and estimate the materials they need for the renovation project.

Another example – the Lowes AR app helps customers quickly navigate through the brand’s stores, pick better routes and quickly find what they need.

2. Color matching

Augmented reality shopping apps are also widely used to match colors and create an optimal palette for a room or an outfit. For example, the Dulux Visualizer app allows customers to choose the new wall color for their home.

Another example is a Prestige ColorPic app which enables users to pick the ideal wall color and instantly order it from Amazon.

3. Outfit visualization

Examples of augmented reality apps include the ones targeting the common pain of shopping for apparel – the inability to envision how the clothes in the store hangers will look in real life. The ASOS Virtual Catwalk app enables shoppers to see how the clothes will look on models with different body sizes and shapes and decides if they will fit.

4. In-store displays

In order to enable augmented reality in retail stores, some brands are installing in-store displays offering shoppers a plethora of interactive experiences.

Kate Spade’s stores, for example, use AR displays helping shoppers create unique customizable bags using decorations and accessories.

Charlotte Tilbury, a cosmetic brand, uses AR displays designed as mirrors to showcase how shoppers’ faces will look with different lipstick colors and makeup.

5. AR fitting rooms

With augmented reality in retail, customers no longer need to try clothes on to see how they fit. They can use a virtual fitting room to choose the look that fits best. Timberland, for example, has installed displays where visitors can see a mirror-like view of themselves and try on different clothes.

Visitors don’t even have to enter the store to see how they will look in a particular outfit. Lily’s, a Chinese apparel brand, has put up an AR display on the window of a store located at the subway platform of Shanghai’s West Nanjing Road Station. Passengers can try clothes on, as they wait for trains.

6. AR-enabled try-on

Virtual try-ons are some of the most vivid examples of AR applications in retail. Using AR apps, customers can try products on without visiting the store. For example, the Warby Parker eyeglasses brand offers customers an AR app to see how their faces will look if they wear different frames.

The world-renowned sportswear giant Nike has also launched an augmented reality shopping app called Nike Fit. Using AR technology, the app helps users estimate their shoe size and saves it in the app. The size can easily be retrieved as customers shop for shoes.

To illustrate how AR is being used in retail, let’s take a look at how it transforms jewelry shopping. Customers can now choose precisely what they want by trying on pieces of jewelry they like virtually. Diamond Hedge, for example, is a solution enabling customers to shop for diamond rings from luxury brands, see how they fit them in real-time, and eventually buy them.

Due to the use of augmented reality, fashion and beauty industry players are also offering customers a different way to try on their products. Sephora’s mobile app, for example, has a Visual Artist feature, enabling users to try on the brand’s products using a combination of face recognition technology and AR. If users like their new look, they may order the products via an app interface.

7. Large products shopping

The augmented reality retail apps are especially helpful in shopping for large products, for example, furniture shopping. Instead of trying to figure out how a piece of furniture will look in their living room, customers can see exactly how it will fit in using an AR app. When developing an AR retail app for furniture shopping, many people look at Ikea, but other furniture brands offer equally interesting solutions.

The Homestyler app, for instance, helps customers create a complete design of their rooms using real-life parameters and dimensions. It’s also completely free and available for both iOS and Android. Decor Matters app also uses AR and artificial intelligence to visualize how different room designs will look in users’ actual living spaces.

In the automotive retail business, BMW uses AR apps to help users explore their car models, configure their parts, and take snapshots.

8. Brand engagement

Some brands are now using AR to boost customer engagement by offering them fun and interactive experiences. Starbucks, for example, has created holiday cups, which ‘come alive’ when customers view them through their smartphone screens.

The Moosejaw-XRay catalog offers a different kind of experience. The AR app enables users to see through the models’ clothing in a catalog and view them in their underwear. As a result, catalog sales have increased by 37%.

9. Building customer loyalty

In a bid to boost customers’ loyalty, Lego offers its fans a new in-store activity. Customers can lift the boxes with Lego sets to an in-store display and see the complete animated set on a display screen.

Toys-R-Us has also introduced a fun AR game for the youngest customers. The Play Chaser App enables them to scan the signs located in each of the brand’s stores and access games and quests they can play alone, or with other players. 

10. Helping customers make informed decisions

Sometimes, especially before buying an expensive product, customers have to go back home and consider all the aspects of their future purchase. A brochure that customers can scan to access the AR visualization of products and other valuable information could help them make an informed decision.

Pipeline Latvia is already offering customers scannable AR brochures that help them select optimal piping systems for water circulation.

11. Merchandising in retail stores

Many brands don’t sell their products in dedicated stores. Instead, their products appear on the shelves of retail stores alongside other merchandise and need some memorable features to make them stand out.

Philips, for example, uses AR tags to mark their electronics. Using their smartphones, customers can read the AR layer of a tag and learn more information about a particular product without turning to a store assistant.

Regarding AR app development

AR application development may be split into several distinct categories:

  • Web-based AR development involves creating apps that will enable AR experiences through a browser interface.
  • Native AR app development provides the same immersive experiences, but the AR app must be installed on a user’s system.

None of these development types is better than the other, so your choice will depend on the audiences you would like to reach, as well as on your business model.

Fundamentally, all AR apps require two core elements: a 3D model and a marker, which is, essentially, an anchor you will tie your 3D graphics to. Anything can act as a marker: in the examples above, Starbucks placed one on a holiday cup and Philips is using AR tags to mark their products on the store shelves.

This brings us to other segments of AR application development: marker-based AR and markerless AR.

types-of-augmented-reality-apps

Marker-based AR needs a physical marker to tie an AR object to it. There are several types of commonly used markers:

  • AR tags (the ones with large dark frames, easy to read and detect);
  • QR codes;
  • Images, such as product logos; and
  • Faces, used as AR markers by cosmetic brands.

Markerless AR uses technologies like SLAM, digital compass, and computer vision to insert AR content into a digital representation of a real-life environment. Markerless AR is currently used mainly by furniture brands, which aims to provide customers with an opportunity to see how the items they choose will look when placed inside their homes. Admittedly, this technology is more advanced although it still needs improvement.

The AR technology stack includes development tools like Wikitude SDK, Augment SDK, Vuforia Augmented Reality SDK, ARToolKit, Catchoom, Layar, DroidAR,  and many more.

Developers also use native libraries like ARKit and ARCore for iOS and Android respectively.

Side note: The capabilities of modern web browsers allow the delivery of AR content without the need to create and support native applications. So, if you decide to restrict yourself to web app development only, there are a lot of web frameworks, libraries and APIs that provide the ability to add AR to web applications: awe.js, argon.js, three.js, etc.

Augmented reality in retail: Final words

This game-changing trend will revolutionize the retail industry and transform the way people shop. The AR locomotive is quickly gathering momentum, and those who won’t manage to hop aboard – will be left behind!

Has AR aroused your curiosity? Are you interested in adding AR functionality to your retail platform (business, store)? Book a free consultation from our specialists!

Frequently Asked Questions

How is augmented reality used in retail?

The use cases for AR in retail include

  • virtual tours;
  • color matching;
  • AR-fitting rooms;
  • AR-enables try-ons;
  • large products shopping;
  • brand engagement;
  • building customer loyalty;
  • helping customers make informed decisions;
  • merchandising, etc.
What are examples of augmented reality in retail?

The below list should give you a vivid illustration of augmented reality examples in retail. Check out the examples of AR apps, solutions, and ad campaigns:

  • Ikea
  • Nike
  • Sephora
  • Warby Parker
  • BMW
  • Timberland
  • Lowes
  • ASOS
What are the AR benefits for retailers?

For retailers, the benefits of using AR include

  • boosting sales,
  • minimizing returns,
  • increasing customer engagement,
  • creating social media content,
  • collecting data on customer preferences,
  • delivering a contactless experience,
  • reducing staffing expenses, and
  • building customer loyalty.
How can AR help increase customer engagement?

Augmented reality shopping informs, surprises and entertains, and creates better customer experiences. These, in return, result in increased customer engagement, and loyalty.

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