How augmented reality is changing the face of retail

​Is your business ready for the future, asks Amelia Kallman



Picture this scene –

You’re at home and in the mood to go shopping, so you get comfortable on your couch. No need to drive anywhere. No traffic, no crowds. With a touch of a button, your wearable device instantly scans your body’s exact dimensions, and when you put on your augmented reality/virtual reality headset, you enter a store that is full of the brands and designers you love – and everything is just your size.

Before you get started, you invite a friend who lives on the other side of the world to come into your dressing room to share the shopping experience. You use voice commands to be shown specific items: “Black leather jackets under £300”. Your eyes scan the rail and the one you are immediately attracted to is recognised and appears on your avatar, no dressing or undressing.

You touch the screen of your device to feel the fabric. You turn your head to access your real closet to see if that belt you bought last month matches the jacket. It does, and you like it, so you buy it instantly, no cash, no cards and a couple hours later a drone delivers it to your doorstep.

What if we told you that all the technology involved in this shopping experience exists today, and this scenario may not be as far off as you imagine? Is your business ready for the future?

Now that we seem to have gotten past virtual reality that gives you motion sickness, we can really start to grasp its impact on various business sectors, including retail.

From reinventing visualisation and product development, to changing shopping behaviours and engaging customers in immersive brand experiences, leading brands are already starting to integrate VR solutions into their strategies and plans. But with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently quoted as saying that he thinks VR is still 10 years away from being mainstream, it’s worth examining why.

Investment firm Piper Jaffray has predicted the size of both AR and VR markets to reach $5.4bn by 2025, likening them to the early ages of mobile phones 15 years ago.

Digi-Capital predicts that VR and AR will grow to $120bn by 2020, with $90bn contributed solely to AR. This seems fairly optimistic considering that newer AR experiences are only now following up the failure of Google Glass. So how can they be so sure that VR hasn’t usurped AR’s market position?

It comes down to the fact that AR doesn’t exclude reality, but rather includes it, which could be key to bringing mixed reality to the masses. While VR offers an immersive world that leaves reality behind, AR allows both worlds to coexist, which may be more appealing to people who already feel they spend too much time alone in front of a screen and not enough communicating with colleagues, friends and loved ones in real life.

This inclusiveness might be vital in bridging the gap between gamers and early adopters, and the mainstream consumer market.

Ultimately, both AR and VR can offer companies advantages that didn’t previously exist. Brands will benefit, saving time and money through visualisation before investments and the additional marketplace where there hadn’t been one before.

Employees will appreciate the convenience of a screenless, infinite interface and the ability to collaborate across geographic locations.

But the ones who could benefit most are consumers.

Consumers will be able to shop from the comfort of their own home – no traffic, no waiting in line. They can tailor searches, like you would on the internet, compare multiple brands at the same time, personalise patterns on an avatar, and pay instantly through a secure device – all while sharing the experience with their friends or loved ones who live anywhere in the world.

They will be treated by brands to virtually attend the exclusive, the dangerous and the expensive, giving consumers an experience they might never be able to have in reality.

Either way, these technologies have the potential to open many new doors – fast – and brands with the biggest capacity for imagination will be the ones to come out on top.

Amelia Kallman is the innovation executive at Engage Works