“I Wonder How This Would Look” – the AR Revolution in Retail

Tim Cook generated some interest in the tech sphere recently by commenting that “My own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two [compared to VR], probably by far.… there’s a lot of really cool things there”, setting Silicon Valley tongues wagging that Augmented Reality could be the next frontier for Apple.

But beyond Apple, Augmented Reality is already starting to creep into the lives of all of us; most notably in the explosion of growth in app Pokemon Go, an adoption that caught many by surprise both because of its speed and how mainstream it became. One of the industries ripe for Augmented Reality disruption, but yet to really scratch the surface of its potential, is retail.

Already some exciting uses for the nascent technology are starting to be explored by industry giants. Coca-Cola have partnered with Augment, a leading company in the industry, this year to demonstrate to potential retailers how Coca-Cola vending machines would look in their store by showing a life-sized projection of the vending machine on tablets. L’Oreal have undergone a similar project with the company for how a stand promoting products would like in hairdresser’s salons. But the potential is even stronger when the technology is delivered to customers.

Rather than thinking about how a product would look in your home, wouldn’t it be incredible to actually see how it would look? Picturing the new sofa in your front room, the watch on your wrist, the car on your driveway would make the item even more tangible. The potential for this is huge, and the great advantage is existing phones and tablets could be used as a way in for retailers; it does not require the adoption of new hardware.

In particular, this improved “try before you buy” strategy in homes would be another massive opportunity for retailers with a strong infrastructure, who are already primed for home delivery. Companies like Amazon could utilise this to further drive sales through their app, perhaps even partnering it with Drone delivery to provide that instantaneous service customers crave.

Fundamentally, the purchase of a product often hinges on imagining how it would look on you or in your house, and wanting that product enough to make the purchase subsequently. Being able to visualise that process will make the product much more appealing. It is this curious synthetic of offline and online worlds that Augmented Reality can finally drive, where the two begun merged. It could be one of the defining trends of the next decade if adoption keeps pace as quickly as it has done to date.

The current stumbling block? It’s prohibitively expensive. Just take Magic Leap, the darling of Augmented Reality and the forefront of conceptualizing and developing this concept. It has raised over $1bn to date in funding, yet very little output in terms of products; the industry is still firmly in the research phase. It may be a number of years before it trickles down enough to be common use.

There are huge advantages to being a first mover in this field. With Tim Cook’s interest in the area, perhaps it will be Apple Stores to change the retail game with AR? The next decade will tell.


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