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What Is AR Doing for Your Customers?

Benjamin Hunting
April 15, 2019

3 minute read

What is AR? Depending on the current augmented reality hype cycle, the answer to that question ranges from “value-adder” to “distracting novelty”. As a business looking to take advantage of the latest customer experience technologies, however, you need to get this right. That means being able to sort through which AR implementation has the potential to truly work for you, and which is merely a flash in the pan that will momentarily snag eyeballs before buyers move on.

Let’s take a look at what augmented reality can actually do for your customers once you’ve stripped away the flash and glitz and focused on the dollars and cents.

Bringing retail home

While holographic talking heads taking the place of in-person sales people might rank higher on the hype scale, some retailers are discovering that moving the showroom to the home can drive sales in a more meaningful fashion.

IKEA was one of the first organizations to experiment with asking “What is AR and how can it build the bottom line?” One notable effort has been IKEA Place, which is an app that allows mobile device users to see how hundreds of pieces of furniture from the brand would actually look in their homes. It uses a video overlay that lets customers reposition furniture around a given room as well as save configurations for future use.

Trying it on

In the makeup business, major players are leveraging the power of AR to help drive sales.

Sephora’s Visual Artist allows people to apply makeup to their own face, after having it scanned by the app, and then of course directs them to the products in question in the Sephora online store. L’Oreal has gone down a similar path with the successful Makeup Genius, an app that has been on the market since 2014, boasts tens of millions of users, and which delivers similar functionality within the company’s portfolio of cosmetic products.

Of interest has been the latter’s success in China, a country where L’Oreal has created a make-up market in the absence of an existing tradition among its target audience of women.

“There’s no culture of makeup passed down from mom to daughter that has been there for years, so for a girl like that to get a virtual experience and try some new looks, that’s something she wants to do,” the brand’s chief marketing officer for China, Asmita Dubey, told AdAge.

Not quite sales

Although it would seem to be one of the industries that would be perfect for augmented reality innovation, the fashion world has taken an alternative perspective on the value of AR. Rather than digitizing inventory and making it available to “try on” using an AR interface without having to leave the house, many fashion brands have been more content to dally in AR as a promotional tool rather than a sales-driver.

This includes Gucci and Burberry which have created apps that link individuals to artwork campaigns and social media ephemera that are loosely associated with the brand but seemingly divorced from the shopping process. One exception remains Zara, which has made it possible for buyers to purchase outfits seen in displays by pointing and clicking with their mobile phone camera.

Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting has covered science, medicine, and technology for a wide range of publications, and has also been published in the Journal of Medical Economics. He coded his first computer program at the age of 8 on a Commodore VIC-20 and still has the audio cassette he saved it on hanging around somewhere in his office.
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