For most of us, shopping often starts online, but there's a new breed of technology that's turning what is usually an intangible experience into something you can virtually pick up, feel and experience first-hand
Augmented reality (AR) looks set to revolutionise shopping. And, with most smartphones now packing this technology as standard, AR is already at the fingertips of consumers.
What is AR?
Augmented reality has been put to practical use since the early 1990s, when the U.S. Air Force's Armstrong Labs used it for pilot training. As you'd expect, those setups were bulky and complicated, and a far cry from what we have today.
AR is best described through the medium of the smartphone. Smart computer vision and tracking technology is used by the device's camera to place virtual objects onto a physical point in your environment.
So powerful is modern AR technology, that a user need only point their smartphone at the dining room table and watch as a perfectly-placed virtual fruit bowl appears on the screen, right where it would be in real life. The phone can then be moved in any direction while the object remains perfectly in place.
How will AR revolutionise shopping?
With augmented reality hitting the mainstream, shoppers have the ability to try on clothing and place furniture in their homes without venturing to retail outlets or making risky purchases.
The advantages offered by AR for both the consumer and retailer are compelling:
1. A 'tactile' experience for shoppers
Clearly, AR doesn't offer the tangible experience you get from traditional shopping, but it does provide digital tactility, which is a leap beyond the current online shopping experience.
Products that were once flat, two-dimensional listings on a web page suddenly become 3D renderings that you can experience virtually in your own surroundings.
2. Reduced waste
Processing returns and replacement products is costly and time consuming for retailers. It's also inconvenient for shoppers, who often have to arrange the return delivery.
With an Augmented Reality eCommerce Platform, the time and money wasted during the return process is all but eradicated, thus vastly reducing the carbon footprint for both the retailer and shopper.
3. A boon for smaller retailers
Small retailers rarely have the budget to open bricks-and-mortar stores. And, until now, the idea of going exclusively online has been fraught with worry over the lack of a hands-on experience for shoppers.
AR looks set to change that by enabling smaller retailers to confidently go online-only, safe in the knowledge that consumers can still try before they buy.
4. Increased sales
How many times have you deliberated over an online purchase, only to err on the side of caution because you're not sure how it will look, operate or fit into your home?
With AR, retailers can expect increased sales as consumers use the technology to convince themselves they're making a worthwhile purchase.
5. Integrated retail
Augmented reality is increasingly being used as part of the ordering process, enabling shoppers to preview their purchase using AR technology, and use the same interface to place their order.
This streamlines the purchasing experience, reduces barriers along the customer journey, and should therefore tackle the thorny issue of abandoned digital carts strewn across the internet.
Thanks to augmented reality, retailers will be able to lower their overheads and provide a digitally tactile shopping experience for consumers, who will in turn be able to make more informed purchases.
This isn't future technology, either. It's here, now. Prebuilt AR software solutions can be implemented quickly and simply - unleashing an entirely new shopping experience nestled within your customers' smartphones.