Augmented reality  can have a great impact in bridging the gap between online and offline worlds in the retail industry, and it seems to benefit both the customer and the retailer. Although its adoption is still in early stages, many brands have successfully experimented with its use .
The future of AR seems promising, as more brands seem willing to invest in it  compared to its more immersive cousin, VR. According to Zion Market Research, the global AR market is expected to rise up to $133 billion by 2021.
Thus, there seems to be an interesting challenge for the retail industry to explore its usage in improving the in-store experience.
Augmented reality can help brands improve the customer experience both in-store and online. By combining the two worlds, AR can actually improve customer experience through all the stages of the funnel.
During the awareness stage, AR can help bring online users closer to a store visit, by enticing them to try out the product. If the goal is to convince people to visit a store, then the fun aspect of augmented reality can serve as a good reason to do so.
According to Retail Perceptions , 61% of shoppers prefer to shop at stores that offer AR over ones that don’t. This serves as an ideal reason for retailers to invest in augmented reality, in an attempt to increase the store visits.
LEGO has created an in-store action app to improve the shopping experience. It encourages people to download the app and visit a LEGO store to pose along with mini figures. Moreover, certain stores offer AR-powered kiosks that bring the products to life with the use of 3D technology.
Once awareness has been achieved, the goal is to engage the new visitors. This can be achieved by blending AR into fun experiences.
Retail Perceptions observes that 55% of shoppers agree that AR makes shopping more fun and exciting.
When it comes to engagement, the idea is to increase the time spent in-store and offer a memorable experience that visitors will enjoy. This creates a pleasant association between a store visit and the brand. Even if a store visit doesn’t lead to an immediate conversion, it’s still considered successful if it makes people come back to enjoy the experience or refer it to a friend.
Uniqlo offers a great example of how AR can be used during an in-store experience. They were among the first adopters of AR back in 2012 and they came up with the idea of involving AR in fitting rooms to improve customer engagement. All they had to do was install an LCD screen along with a mirror, allowing people to try on their clothes in different variations or colors.
This is a great way for a retailer to demonstrate the range of their products in a visual, engaging fashion, helping to nudge the customer towards a sale at the same time.
A more tangible and important objective for retailers is to increase sales. Visitors seem to be more willing to spend in a store that offers a unique AR experience. Retail Perceptions estimates that 40% of shoppers would be willing to pay more for a product if they were able to test it through AR.
This means that retailers have more chances to see an increase in sales by involving AR in their in-store experience.
For example, American Apparel created an app and an AR platform to offer additional information about their products, while they also provide details about the available stock, the colors, or even the reviews for each product. This makes the purchasing decision easier, blending engagement with the goal of increasing sales.
Right after the conversion, retailers hope to turn new visitors into loyal customers. Customer loyalty may be challenging, but AR can use the existing engagement to keep customers interested in the brand and the experiences it’s offering.
A personalized experience makes customers feel more important and as they spend more time in-store, they provide more data to enjoy further personalization in their next visits.
Loyalty programs can become more sophisticated with the development of AR technology. While AR technologies mature, customer loyalty can be targeted and engaging, facilitating new purchases by following customers’ shopping behaviors.
Walgreens experimented with AR for their loyalty app, helping customers explore more products and in-store promotions. Moreover, they were also guided on how to obtain loyalty points, a process that involved gamification to increase engagement. Thus, customers were able to find the products they were looking for while benefiting from discounts and rewards.
The future of AR in in-store experience
As shoppers already enjoy the use of AR in stores, there is a great opportunity for more retailers to explore all the different ways the new technology can improve customer satisfaction.
The added interactivity, engagement and fun offered by augmented reality can transform the in-store experience into something truly unique, an experience that is unparalleled by online shopping – helping to lure people back towards brick-and-mortar retail stores.
This doesn’t mean that the retail industry is moving away from ecommerce. On the contrary, there is a huge opportunity to blend online and offline experiences into a multidimensional customer focus that will improve sales and the customer experience.
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