High-Tech Helpers: How Retailers Are Using AR to Enhance the In-Store Experience

Augmented reality in retail | Shopify Retail blog

Augmented reality (AR) is changing the retail game. Retailers across the board are using AR to drive sales and improve the customer experience.

One way brands are improving conversions, in particular, is by bringing AR technology into stores. It’s a strategic move: 61% of consumers prefer stores that offer AR experiences, 40% will pay more for your product if they can experience it through AR, and 69% expect retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months.

But how can retailers with little experience in this high-tech tool best use AR to boost conversions? While there are multiple tactics, one of the methods more retailers are using is to create a more immersive shopping experience for customers. 

And to give you some ideas of how retailers can do this successfully, we got a little help from an expert. Below, find out what we learned when we chatted with Nathan Pettyjohn, CEO of AR platform Aisle411 and president of the VR/AR Association about how brands are enhancing the in-store experience through AR.

In-Store Navigation

Retailers have made in-store navigation easier and quicker for shoppers with a little help from AR. And while many studies and experts will tell you that the longer customers are in your store, the more they will spend, AR is turning this statement on its head.

“We found that we can reduce time spent in-store while also increasing the number of purchases made,” Pettyjohn says. He points out that more time spent in-store means more time getting lost or confused while trying to find products. Through AR, retailers can make the purchase process more convenient.

One example of such technology being put to use is in Lowe’s stores. The brand’s In-Store Navigation app (powered by Google Tango) uses AR technology to create a mobile experience that guides shoppers through the store. Shoppers create a shopping list, and the app identifies the quickest route possible to check off all the items.

Walgreens is another retailer that’s incorporating AR technology to drive sales by helping customers find what they need more easily. Aisle411 used Google Tango technology to create the AR-powered experience for the major retail brand.

Similar to Lowe’s, the Walgreens mobile app created an AR-powered, in-store search and navigation tool for shoppers. Customers would search an item, and the app will tell them where it is, as well as related information such as pricing and description.

Despite what you may think, AR technology doesn’t make human sales associates obsolete in terms of helping customers find their way around. In fact, retailers can find success by integrating the two to help customers navigate their stores. You can arm associates with the technology to better assist customers.

Pettyjohn cites AR glasses as an example. Associates could look up an item for a customer and be guided to the exact spot on the shelf where the product sits. “It creates a more seamless, more efficient customer service experience,” says Pettyjohn.

Product-Focused // Product Experience

In many cases, AR is focused specifically on enhancing shoppers’ experience with your actual product. Two key ways retailers are using AR to do this are through letting shoppers virtual “try on” your products and by providing detailed product information. Let’s look at each:

Virtual Product Testing

In apparel, accessories, and cosmetics, many brands are playing with the idea of allowing customers to virtually try on their products. And while this technology is effective anywhere, it can be a game-changer when implemented in-store.

One common way of virtual product testing is through AR-powered mirrors. Brands like Rebecca Minkoff, Topshop, Timberland, and Uniqlo have all allowed customers to try on their apparel products this way. Customers don’t have to go to the fitting rooms; instead, they stand in front of these smart mirrors to see a virtual version of themselves wearing the clothing of their choice. Oftentimes, this experience is complemented with additional product information.

GeekWire reported that Amazon has patented a “blended-reality” mirror, which will use a combination of AR and other technologies to create virtual fitting rooms.

One particular way this can help retailers drive conversions is by making more products accessible to in-store shoppers. One downfall to the brick-and-mortar experience is the limited stock availability. Pettyjohn notes the opportunity: AR fitting rooms and mirrors can help you drive sales by taking an omnichannel approach and enabling online purchases right then and there.

“The idea is that you could have an increased conversion rate on an omnichannel strategy in buying products that might not be physically in the store,” Pettyjohn says. “It extends the store shelf.”

Cosmetics is another key industry that has used AR to allow customers to try on a variety of their products. Customers could try 10 signature looks through Charlotte Tilbury’s “magic mirror” AR technology, and Sephora has played with the technology through many iterations of mobile app experiences.

Charlotte Tilbury Westfield London Magic Mirror from Holition on Vimeo.

Detailed Product Information

AR has allowed retailers to provide customers with detailed information about products (and related products) while shopping in-store. This may be a standalone component or a feature of the virtual fitting rooms and mirrors.

“[AR allows for] object recognition and shopping comparison inside the store,” Pettyjohn says. “[You can] overlay content on top of the real world about the product and its benefits. It extends the screen that you might be looking at in front of you and turns it into a bigger, more engaging experience in AR.”

American Apparel is a great example. When customers scan in-store signage and displays, they’d see product details, such as customer reviews, color variants, and pricing to help them make an informed buying decision.

While effective, this technology does not come without its challenges. Creating the content, especially the visuals, is one of the most important and difficult tasks to complete. “Making sure that their databases are up to date and accurate [has been] the largest challenge that we’ve had in being able to scale up a solution,” Pettyjohn says. “But a lot of the bigger retailers have been working on this for five to 10 years and are getting in the 95% plus accuracy rate.”

Gamification // Just for Fun

More than half of shoppers say that AR makes shopping more fun and exciting, according to Forbes. Think Pokemon GO meets retail customer experience. And there are a few ways brands have leveraged this approach.

Walmart has used AR a few times to add excitement to their stores. They’ve introduced mobile app experiences in conjunction with major campaigns, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series and Justice League movie. Interactive elements with in-store signage, printed flyers, and the online store paired with the timeliness and buzz around the campaigns for a successful AR experience.

Skatewear brand Tillys also created a fun and interactive in-store experience through the use of AR technology. Shoppers would download the Tillys mobile app to participate in an in-store scavenger hunt.

The more tasks completed in the hunt, the more discounts users would receive. All in all, more than 80% of the rewarded coupon codes were redeemed in-store. The brand also leveraged influencer marketing to spread the word about the campaign.

In Shanghai, Starbucks is also using AR to add an extra fun element to the in-store customer experience.

“Stand in front of the roasting cask at the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Asia and you’ll see a staggeringly beautiful, two-story copper vessel adorned with nearly 3,000 hand-carved traditional Chinese chops, or stamps. But hold your phone up to it, and new worlds reveal themselves,” Starbucks announces in a press release.

Essentially, customers can hold their phones up to the display and see an animation of the journey coffee beans go through before they become the liquid product in your cup.

Moving Forward: How Retailers Are Using AR to Enhance the In-Store Experience

When implementing your own in-store AR experience, there is no single solution. Pettyjohn says the answers to how you should frame your approach lies in testing. “Test these different use cases and engage with the consumers to see how their feedback comes into play,” he says.

Which retail brands are changing the in-store experience through AR? How do you want to use it in your biz?