As retailers face tough competition augmented reality (AR) technology may help save them and revive their profits. Ecommerce was still only responsible for 8.1 percent of retail sales last year but was fully 41.6 percent of sales growth.
Shoppers still spend about 90 percent of their dollars in regular stores even as their dominance is shrinking year by year. New technology may help save the regular stores from the fierce competition as they also take advantage of new technology. Recent estimates indicate AR and related technology will be worth $30 billion by 2020 as competition between online stores and older style brick-and-mortar retailers heats up. Using AR will enable retailers to augment their customers' interactions with physical items.
Wikipedia describes Augmented Reality(AR) as follows:
Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are "augmented" by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called computer-mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. Augmented reality enhances one’s current perception of reality, whereas in contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.
The augmentation is typically performed in real time.
An example of augmented reality is the AR Helmet used for construction workers. The helmet displays information about the construction site as shown on the appended video.
The helmet involves what is called a head-mounted display(HMD). The HMD displays both images of the physical world and virtual objects over the viewers field of view. Some providers even include gesture controls. Some AR displays are rendered by devices resembling eyeglasses that contain cameras and re-display the augmented view through the eye piece.
AR has many applications. One military use is described in this article. It also has had medical and industrial applications. By 2016 it had expanded into a number of commercial uses and it has been used as an important teaching aid even in primary schools. AR has now become a tool by which retailers with stores can compete with their ecommerce competitors.
Ecommerce does have some advantages over traditional retail stores in that the companies have lower inventory costs and reach a wider consumer base. However, the majority of consumers want in person shopping experiences. The company Retail Drive found that 62 percent of customers chose traditional stores in order to see, touch, and try out items before they bought them. Almost half of consumers enjoyed getting their product right away. A full twenty percent of shoppers in traditional stores enjoyed the social experience of doing so. Omnichannel retailers are already using in-store AR devices as shown on the appended You Tube video.
Here are a few of the many advances AR has provided for traditional retailers. Store space is always a problem for traditional retailers. However with AR a customer can point their phones at a shirt and see how it would look in different colours. They can then order the shirt through the retailer's online store and pick it up later at the traditional store.
Showrooming has been somewhat of a negative for retailers in that shoppers come in and see the actual products, compare prices and then go on line and often buy there. The car company BMW decided that enhancing the showroom experience could make it more positive. BMW used Google's Tango that allowed car shoppers to change features such as wheels and trim. It can even show what the car will look like in your driveway. BMW was able to cut down on inventory in the showroom.
IKEA has used AR in a catalog that allows people to look at how assembled furniture would look in their own home.
Lego stores introduced AR to show kids how their completed models would look without the need to have an actual display.
AR supplements dressing rooms. AR has been used to let shoppers actually try on various colors of an item without having to change clothes. The shopper can then post photos of the outfits on social media. The clothes can also be seen from the back.
These are just a few of the ways that traditional stores are adapting to ecommerce competition. The traditional store can adapt by itself making use of some of the same technology that is helping to drive their online competitors. Even the ecommerce giant Amazon does not see the brick and mortar store as doomed. It recently opened its seventh bookstore in New York.