How Retailers Bring the In-Store Experience Into Customers' Homes With AR Technology

AR technology in retail, IKEA Place | Shopify Retail blog

Augmented reality is being used by an increasing number of retail brands. It’s changing how consumers shop, how brands connect with consumers, and how retailers gather data to understand consumers.

More retail brands are leaning on AR technology to upgrade their customers’ shopping experience in their stores. From making store navigation simple to making it easy to test out products, the retail industry is producing more augmented reality examples for other brands to emulate.

Another way retailers are using the technology is to extend the in-store experience — meaning that customers can bring products and the “store” experience home with them. AR technology allows you to reach a wider audience, and this is always a benefit for retailers that are looking to expand beyond their local customer base.

We connected with Jeff Ridgeway, SVP of Business Development at augmented, virtual, and mixed reality agency Zappar, to discuss how today’s retail brands are using AR technology to introduce in-store experiences into the comfort of consumers’ homes.

How Retailers Can Use AR Technology to Connect With Customers At Home

Nurture Customer Relationships

Building meaningful and positive relationships with your customers can drive loyalty, word-of-mouth marketing, and, ultimately, sales. AR technology is one way you can build and nurture those relationships into something profitable.

“Programs [that] actively engage retailers with their consumers drive engagement …. as well as purchase intent,” Ridgeway says. “[This] potentially drives repeat purchases and also opens up a one-to-one, [brand-to-customer] media channel.”

The approach to building customer relationships changes depending on your brand and customer. It could be through gamification, Ridgeway points out. That’s what candy brand PEZ did with their AR app. PEZ Play, while not exactly reminiscent of an in-store shopping experience, extends the brand experience to consumers’ homes through an additional avenue, other than experiencing the product itself. It was a strategic way to build customer relationships and learn about user behavior.

FURTHER READING: Learn more about how retail brands are using gamification to boost brand engagement.

Not all at-home AR retail experiences are just for fun. Utility comes into play as well. Lowe’s Measured app helps customers measure furniture, rooms, and related in-home items. The app uses images from the mobile device’s camera to provide measurements and aid customers in the purchase process.

Increase Geographic Reach

Ecommerce is one way to reach a larger geographic area of customers, but it doesn’t replicate the experience that retailers can provide in-store. AR technology helps retailers create a virtual version of your store so you can extend that shopping experience to more customers, even those outside your store’s geographic reach.

One example of a brick-and-mortar store that has leveraged AR to expand its geographic reach is home and lifestyle brand Magnolia Market. With a single retail location in Waco, Texas, the retailer wanted to reach a larger audience to promote online sales — and foot traffic for those in the area.

As other home goods retailers have done in the past, they created a mobile app that allows shoppers to browse products and see how they’d look in their home.

According to Stone Crandall, Digital Experience Manager at Magnolia, AR technology has helped customers make more informed purchasing decisions.

“Thanks to AR, online shoppers will now have the answers to: How will this piece look in my home? How big is the item in real life? What does the inside look like, or the back? At the end of the day, nothing tops the in-store experience, but AR provides the capabilities for guests to make equally informed buying decisions from afar, at all hours of the day.”

Read more about Magnolia Market and other AR success stories >

Create Another Sales Channel

Magnolia Market promoted its online sales channels through its use of AR, and other retailers can take note. AR can help you create additional revenue streams, which is especially beneficial for multichannel sellers.

Furniture is one key vertical that has used AR to bring the in-store shopping experience to customers’ homes, driving online sales. Anthropologie used AR in its mobile app to allow customers to shop their furniture collection from home, and IKEA Place creates a similar experience for shoppers.

One key thing retailers have to remember when creating this at-home experience for customers is the quality of the technology and the content.

“If you have poor-quality 3D content, or the technology doesn’t allow you to get true scale of furniture and things in your home, that’s going to deter and distract from the experience,” Ridgeway says.

The cosmetics industry is another key niche that has extended its in-store experience through AR. With L’Oréal’s recent acquisition of augmented reality company ModiFace, which specializes in cosmetics, it’s expected that the brand will continue to push the boundaries of AR. The retail brand has already tested AR with its Makeup Genius app.

Deepen the Product Experience

Virtual try-ons, such as the furniture and cosmetics examples listed above, are one way to deepen the product experience through at-home AR technology. Amazon, though primarily an ecommerce company, is another retail brand that has introduced a retail-inspired AR experience through its AR View feature in the Amazon app.

Again, allowing customers to see what products actually look like in their home creates an in-home shopping experience with the “tangibility” of an in-store excursion. This deepens engagement with the product, especially during the pre-purchase phase.

But at-home AR experiences can extend the in-store product experience post-purchase, too. One key way is to integrate product packaging into the technology. For CPG brands especially, this allows you to cross-promote other products, learn about your customers and how they engage with your products, and deepen product engagement. One example of such is the collaboration between Shazam and retail brand Bombay Sapphire.

Using a dedicated mobile app, customers would scan the Bombay Sapphire bottle at home and get recipes and other relevant content to improve their experience with the product. This replaced the need for customers to ask in-store reps or search for the information online.

Augmented Reality for Packaging - Shazam & Bombay Sapphire from Zappar on Vimeo.

Ultimately, retailers can use AR technology both pre- and post-purchase.

“We see a little bit of both,” Ridgeway says. “Brands can offer content to drive purchase intent pre-purchase, then it can offer different content once that product is taken home.”

How AR Technology is Changing the Shopping Experience

While AR is shaping how consumers shop at home, allowing retailers to reach larger audiences, build stronger customer relationships, and drive sales through deeper product experiences, it’s also being implemented in-store.

Sold on the idea of using AR technology? Read more about how AR is being used in retail stores to drive customer loyalty and sales >