Augmented Reality could’ve saved online shopping during COVID-19 outbreak, and it still can
When the whole e-commerce suffers from the system shock, it is time for retailers to utilize and leverage all their forces to stimulate and sustain consumer demand. That also includes research of new technologies, such as Augmented Reality
Two months into pandemic, and we’ve already agreed life won’t be the same anymore. We do hope that at a certain point of time spreading will slow down, and isolation with social distancing will be left behind. But it is obvious that our usual routine might be changed forever – the way we choose stuff and the way we buy it, to be clear.
In fact, online has become practically the only available option to go shopping. Foot traffic in malls went down as three quarters of US internet users decided to stay clear of shopping centers according to the poll. Some brands were quick enough to retaliate the pandemic by shifting consumer’s attention to digital channels. E-commerce appeared to become an ultimate problem-solving paradigm for a dramatic number of brands.
But it ain’t that easy. While brands adopt online shopping as a new normal, consumers may see this as a temporary solution. So as we cheer the rise of fmcg sales via online channels, some e-commerce verticals can’t fight the virus outbreak. For example, fashion, apparel & accessory industry in France has experienced a 41% net drop compared to the last year’s lowest-performing day, followed by UK at 29% respectively. The whole retail industry in UK is forecasted to lose £12.6bn this year, with clothing and footwear to suffer the most with the possible sales decline of 20.6%. In contrast, the UK food and grocery market is forecasted to grow 7.1% in 2020, which is £6.8bn up on the previous forecasted annual gain. We can assume that furniture and electronic brands will suffer even more – as people will postpone any big purchases for the better time. The only exceptions are brands that help organize a comfortable work space at home and upgrade home with new entertainment hardware
So we stuck in a rather strange scenario: brands do understand the need to move to online, but their customers see it as a temporary solution and just wait until the pandemic wears off. But social distancing will remain for some time even after the lockdown, and not everybody may understand that. So the best way to address the pandemic is to establish new digital retail channels and enforce e-commerce as the new normal to the customers. But how to make them feel comfortable with the new digital shopping reality?
Okay, but hear me out: AR as e-commerce savior
Yes, we’re stuck at home. But it doesn’t mean we’ll start rummaging through websites buying Echo-1’s and Gucci shopping bags for saved lunch money. That’s because online purchases are mostly practical and logical: we focus on the most-needed items with a better offer and faster delivery. If something’s not a need then it can definitely wait until brighter days. But we do miss offline shopping as it is an essential part of our consumer-driven lives that brings emotions. The flat of the screen will never give the right feeling of size and color. Whatever number of pages your online shop offers, the true thrill of the hunt for the exact merchandise stays in the wild – between the stocks and boxes, where you will be able to chase and withdraw your trophy.
While rational consumption takes over, it is time for brands to find a way to make online experience more emotional. There’s one underrated technology that can soften the heart of the rational pandemic shopper. Augmented reality is one of the few tools that can bring digital goods into living objects. And there are plenty of examples of successful integration of AR into digital shopping: brands like Gap and IKEA have their own mobile AR apps that let customers view and compare their product in the live environment since 2017. Amazon AR View allows you to measure free space in your apartment and choose the fitting furniture. So can do Shopify solutions. Bringing life-sized virtual models into your surroundings allows you to focus attention on the aesthetic aspect of your future purchase rather than functionality and economy only.
Basically, any physical product can be rendered into a virtual model and put into a mobile AR store. But augmented e-commerce experience doesn’t limit you to physical objects only – it allows building additional layers of reality that you can fill with any type of content. For example, in 2020 Mastercard announced the launch of the new app with a personal bank account in augmented reality, which will allow you to track your spending, savings and other payments in rather various environments of thematic rooms.
Solutions as AR were basically a fun gimmick for brands to toy around with. In time of total lockdown, AR can bring elements of the outside world into our own apartment, which opens an opportunity for brands to be as close as possible to their audience.
Technology isn’t new, but it’s still a fresh idea
Numerous brands tried AR for themselves as a marketing case study. Some of them never left the beta stage. That puts augmented reality into a rather interesting spot among other immersive technologies: fully researched and tested solution with established frameworks that still feels like something new. This longing freshness won’t stay forever, however; as R&D teams and tech companies grow and accumulate their experience, sooner or later AR will take its functioning spot in brand stories, as well as become a must part in e-commerce experience of any brand. The good thing with AR is that all the solutions are already present on the market and are ready to be tested. They range from quick, ready-for-service products to custom-build websites and physical stands – like Timberland’s virtual fitting room.
The simplest and most accessible AR solutions start from Web AR and iOS AR. The only difference between Web AR and iOS is device compatibility: Web AR is accessible from almost everything in the world and iOS AR wants you to have an Apple device. On the other hand, iOS AR provides better visualization and overall quality of objects. First is a mobile solution that work on most smartphones using a browser. Second is also a web solution, but it would only work on some of the latest iOS devices. Your customers don’t even have to download any apps – your products will pop up right in a users internet browser. Generally speaking, Web AR is the simplest and most resources effective way to test whether your audience is going to use AR in the buying process. iOS AR works similar but also offers a higher level of graphics, while limiting the audience to Apple users only That brings whole new level of visualization for your products, giving customers full 3D preview of wanted items. Plain and simple website becomes an immersive space with interactive feature that encourages people to pay more attention to details, and as a result earns their interest in future purchase.
If you’re about to scale up internet presence with an online shop, you can try out any spot-on AR shopping solutions. Just imagine bringing your mall store to a whole another dimension, accessible from the living room and fully interactive. Some solutions, such as Step-in-shop, propose a fully customizable retail space, which you can brand and organize however you need or want – and your customers will be visiting it through your branded app! That means any object, presented in your AR shop can be approached, viewed and bought straight from it. This eases life of electronics and furniture brands as decisions on purchase heavily rely on the possibility to look at product on-spot in shop. Ready-to-go shopping solutions that bring such interactivity “out of the box” are numerous possibilities on customization, will it be a simple showroom or a replica of your biggest outlet. As a ready-to-go solution, it can be assembled in a number of days, depending on your personal needs.
And, of course, nothing stops you from creating your very own custom experience just like the famous brands we have already mentioned in this article. It can be an app that would give a full 1:1 scale of your products, such as IKEA, or Gap’s fitting room, where you can try out any outfit presented. Whatever solution you’re looking for – whether it’s a one-time problem-solver or a shift to e-commerce in an outstanding way that can be fully built and customized with AR.
We are about to embrace new traditions in the way we shop. Consumers will shift towards digital solutions because they simply have to, and will most likely stick to it later. Almost half of those who made their first purchase online are ready to make their second shopping trip into the web. Those who made purchases on the internet during the holiday season tend to continue shopping online post-holidays. So it is the golden time for delivery services and online retailers to shine. The question is – who will find the most appealing communication channels to do so and even trick their customers into making more emotional purchases online