Thanks to augmented reality, the analog and digital worlds are merging. The data-driven augmentation of reality is viewed as a groundbreaking future technology for many businesses. The main challenge is the interaction of software and hardware.
One technology pushes the boundaries of reality: In the dressing room, customers combine new pieces with shirts and pants from their closet at home – all virtually superimposed on the mirror or smartphone. In the cosmetics department, a photo app shows whether a shade of makeup matches the skin tone. At the supermarket, the smartphone displays arrows and guides you through the aisles according to the shopping list. And in the furniture store, customers project the new couch directly into their own living room.
Retail is discovering a new data-driven technology in order to serve customers in a more personalized and comprehensive way. Augmented reality or AR, an expansion of reality, is designed to turn shopping into an engaging experience. The principle: The technology complements the analog world by superimposing additional information such as product details, recommendations or safety advice. What that means is that AR overlays a real image with virtual representations, which is why it is often referred to as “mixed reality.” In general, customers only need their smartphone with camera and the corresponding app. From the perspective of retailers, the potential is enormous: The virtual overlays could minimize unwanted purchases and returns. The customer in the shop experiences playful interaction with these overlays and is ideally more open to receiving suggestions than in the online shop.
More revenue, fewer unwanted purchases
It is no coincidence that today retailers are considered pioneers in the use of AR applications. For the food sector alone, studies predict that AR will be able to increase annual net sales by more than five billion euros. In addition, surveys suggest that customers are generally very willing to use AR: Nearly 89% of people who have tried out the technology before would use it again.
Other industries are also cautiously moving towards AR: In the area of logistics, special smart glasses are already being used to direct warehouse employees to the right shelves for order picking. At the shelves, the glasses provide information about the product such as the packaging dimensions, weight and destination. Instead of wearing cumbersome headphones or carrying around a separate tablet, the smart glasses show all information: Logistics experts see AR as an opportunity to boost the efficiency of their work processes.
Companies and manufacturers have long dreamt of the digital and analog world coming together. Today, the technology has overcome significant hurdles. According to current forecasts, by the end of the year there will be 800 million smartphones in circulation worldwide with operating systems and processors that support AR applications. The games market is also an important driver. The hype around the Pokémon Go smartphone game by the American developer studio Niantic has made AR famous.
Headaches instead of buying
In practice, however, there are still some problems. Right now, tens of thousands of new AR apps are popping up which, according to surveys, are likely to scare retail customers away. In the future, companies will have to figure out how to bundle different applications within few apps. Companies will still have to decide whether to limit their product data only to their own program or make it available for cross-platform shopping applications.
At present, smart glasses also have some flaws as current pilot projects have shown. The visualization causes headaches after a while. In addition, some glasses still weigh too much and are uncomfortable to wear. This is where the future lies: Experts believe that AR applications will mainly run on smart glasses or contact lenses so that the user’s hands are free. The breakthrough will be largely determined by the advances in hardware.