How will that sofa look in your living room? You could just measure it, check the color, and hope for the best – or you could use an augmented reality app to see exactly what your space would look like. Retailers like IKEA are hoping you'll opt for the second choice, and use a digital app that incorporates Augmented Reality, or AR, to see exactly what their furniture and accessories will look like in your living space. By using this emerging technology, the furniture giant and other brands hope to tempt consumers into purchasing items based on how they integrate into the buyer’s existing home and setup.
Augmented reality is not new; the AR-based Pokemon Go had legions of fans and players and allowed users to spot virtual Pokémon in real-life settings. While the game is no longer as popular as it once was (newer AR apps and games have edged this one out of the prime market share it once enjoyed), it is an excellent example of how easily consumers accept and adopt this emerging technology.
As brands feel pressure to be omnipresent, innovative forms of advertising and marketing that incorporate the always-connected consumers' own device continue to be in demand. Traditional outlets like television advertising continue to decline, pacing the way for brands to interact with consumers in new ways and to provide increasingly personalized experiences.
Augmented Reality is a set of technologies and tools that incorporate the real world with an overlay or enhancement of another item or image. From seeing how a new pair of glasses or new hairstyle would look to determining which chair works best in your dining room, AR provides a new way for consumers to interact with brands and items in their own familiar setting. By viewing the home or even themselves on a phone or other device, users can add an Augmented Reality overlay and picture a new item in a familiar setting.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
Where Augmented Reality enhances the real, existing environment, a virtual reality setting creates a new world to engage and interact with entirely. For users of AR, only a few select elements are enhanced and added to the physical world or setting. Virtual reality plunges the user into an altogether different setting. While both AR and VR impact the way a user sees and interacts with the environment, AR does so in a more realistic and more seamless way.
Augmented reality can add a virtual overlay to the real world – whether that item is a Pikachu, an adorable Star Wars Porg, or a dining room chair. This allows consumers to see what owning the virtual item would be like or imagine that character or piece right in their own personal setting.
While the best-understood use of AR is to add items to the familiar environment and real world, it can also help eliminate unwanted items from view. AR-equipped glasses or phones can be used to eliminate items from view that do not meet your specifications. A trip through the grocery store is totally changed when only those foods that fit perfectly into your low carb, vegan or pre-diabetes diet can be seen. Looking for gifts for someone specific? AR can be used to filter out those items that do not meet the correct criteria, from price range to target audience or demographic. In addition to selectively highlighting those items that match a pre-specified data set (low-calorie foods, STEM gifts for teens, baby boy toys), AR can also integrate personal shopping data and history, highlighting those items that are most likely to be purchased and even generating promo or discount offers based on the preferences the buyer has exhibited in the past.
As more brands experiment with incorporating their own marketing materials, characters, and products into the existing environment, the ability to highlight specific brands and make others fade into the background is a more complex, but more powerful way to use AR to impact the consumer shopping experience.
What does the ability to highlight a specific feature, product, or character mean for digital marketing? For most brands, it is an additional opportunity to connect with consumers in an original and highly personalized way.
AR products that identify items by sight are making it easier than ever for consumers to get information. One of Google Lens’ most recent innovations allows users to identify items simply by looking at them or snapping an image. Want to know the breed of that cute pup you passed on the sidewalk? Look at it with your AR-equipped glasses and the information will be there waiting for you. Spot a cute pair of shoes? A quick snap or look will allow you to source them instantly. As brands like Google continue to evolve and use Augmented and Virtual Reality in innovative ways, consumers will have more and more options.
Making items instantly identifiable is just the beginning. Once the item is identified, the consumer can be directed to the right place to buy. In the retail setting, a custom incentive offer can be generated to accompany the information. Google is not alone – Apple’s new ARKit software for developers offers the same sort of functionality, providing everything from shopping history to real-time support as shoppers browse the retail store or setting. About 24 million AR-equipped devices are expected to be sold in 2018; this number is expected to increase to over 500 million by 2025, according to Bloomberg.
While AR requires a smartphone or other device to display, brands are launching the AR experience from printed media, online media, and in-app experiences. According to experts at AdAge, Augmented Reality could help revitalize the print marketing industry and further personalize the shopping and buying experience. From offering additional information, pop-up style to the integration of popular or branded characters into the media itself, print and augmented reality technology can be used to create an immersive and cohesive consumer experience.
The applications for using Augmented Reality are limited only by a brand’s imagination and willingness to invest in this still-emerging technology. The display of items and products in the consumer’s own space in the correct scale makes it far more likely that a prospective customer can proceed with confidence. Since they have already seen the item in place or in action, that prospect can purchase without trepidation, knowing they have made a good decision.
Augmented reality removes the barriers imposed by time and geography. If a buyer wants to see what a dress would look like “on” before purchasing from an online retailer, augmented reality allows them to do so. Once the item is seen, it can be purchased, worry-free. For furniture and home goods retailers, the ability to offer consumers a way to see items in their own homes can remove barriers and increase sales. Once the accessory, chair, or table is seen in place, the consumer is far more likely to purchase it with confidence.
Home retailer Lowes is already incorporating AR into its in-store navigation and remodeling programs. By offering consumers a way to explore what an upgraded bath, kitchen, or floor would look like in their own homes, Lowes is making it easier than ever for their in-store and online teams to close the deal.
Retailers like Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren are already incorporating "magic mirrors" directly into the consumer experience. For shoppers, a different size, color, or item can be viewed in the mirror without having to actually head out to the sales floor and pick out another piece. The clothing itself connects with the mirror and interacts with the image of the customer, expanding their options and in some cases, upselling additional items. This allows for a fully personalized experience – – and keeps consumers in the store for longer periods of time for each shopping session.
Augmented Reality is a natural match for social media, and brands are boosting awareness of characters, entire product lines and specific items by making them available for consumer use. Adding a favorite character to a photo, creating a branded filter that shows off the user’s own image with the branded item overlay ensures that both parties, the sender and the recipient or viewer, interact with a specific brand every time an image is viewed.
Augmented reality also elevates a branded social media image from a static one way experience to something more. When a consumer integrates a branded overlay into an image, the result used to be a singular image that definitely increased awareness but did not do much more than that. By incorporating AR for marketing, a brand can not only have a presence, but offer additional information or options for the viewer to engage with, creating a more interactive experience and allowing that passive image to become a strong call to action.
Incorporating Augmented Reality into an established digital marketing strategy gives brands some powerful new tools and innovative new ways to establish a connection with customers. By engaging in new ways, maintaining a presence right on a consumer’s own device, and offering convenient, try before you buy options, brands can harness the power of augmented reality for marketing.