How 6 Leading Retailers Use Augmented Reality Apps to Disrupt the Shopping Experience

A picture of a glasses and a man

By Tricia McKinnon and Karen Tang

Augmented Reality (AR) is a powerful tool for retailers which can help reduce the friction that exists while online shopping.  Using AR retailers can give customers the option of “trying out” their products from the comfort of their own homes.  AR has even broader appeal than virtual reality since a headset is not required to use it.

Although AR is a promising technology it has not reached widespread adoption yet.  According to an eMarketer report, only 10% of internet users in the US have used augmented reality while shopping digitally.  But 45% of US internet users who have not tried the technology are interested in using it.  The low usage of AR shopping apps is lalso due to a lack of apps on the market with the technology.  However, there are several forward-looking retailers that are making investments in AR with the hopes of cementing a leadership position before this digital shopping experience becomes mainstream.  Here are what leading retailers are doing to provide a better shopping experience with AR.

1. Warby Parker recently launched an augmented reality app that allows customers to digitally try on glasses from the comfort of the customer’s home.  Since the retailer cannot stock all of its inventory in its stores it is a great way to allow customers to “try-on” a broader range of products.  Warby Parker also noticed that customers typically take pictures of themselves while trying on glasses in-store and share those pictures with friends.  Customers can now do that easily with the retailer’s app.

2.  In 2017 Williams Sonoma, which also owns West Elm and Pottery Barn purchased Outward, a 3-D imaging and augmented reality software company for $112 million.  Williams Sonoma’s CEO Laura Alber said “we see augmented reality as a transformative tool in improving the customer experience because it’s going to be able to help people better visualize”. Williams Sonoma was initially a client of Outward which helped the retailer provide customers with the ability to see a 360-degree view of a product on its website.

3. Target has also launched functionality on its mobile website to enable customers to digitally see products in their homes.   The functionality called See it in Your Space was launched in 2017.  Similar to other AR furniture shopping apps it allows customers to see what various furniture items look like within their own homes in a 3 D view. During the initial launch there were only 200 products that customers could digitally see within their space but Target plans to have thousands of products available for this feature by the end of 2018.  

4. IKEA’s augmented reality app IKEA Place will change the way you buy furniture.  Using the IKEA Place app take a picture of your living room. The app automatically measures the space, then it provides recommendations on furniture that fits in the space.  IKEA’s app was created using Apple’s AR Kit.  It’s one of the first apps to be released using Apple’s augmented reality technology.  

5.  L’Oreal created a Facetime-meets-makeup-counter AR customer experience within its NYX cosmetics app.  Customers are connected with NYX makeup artists by calling a makeup artist via the NYX app.  The makeup artist can speak to the customer and can put various shades of makeup on the customer using the AR functionality that is within the app.  It is essentially a live streamed beauty consultation that provides an aspect of educational one-on-one service with makeup artists, from wherever the customer would like to take the call. The app’s functionality also allows for in app purchases.

6.  Sephora’s innovative mobile app contains a Virtual Artist. The Virtual Artist uses facial recognition technology to allow customers to digitally try on products.  Customers scan their face using the app.  Then they can try on different shades of makeup using the app. If a customer likes their simulated look they can quickly and easily buy the products through the app.  Within the app customers can also take makeup tutorials.  For example, if a customer takes a contouring tutorial the app will overlay the contouring look on the customer’s face digitally.  It is an excellent example of personalization at an individual level.  In the first four weeks after the app was launched in 2016, Sephora had over 2 million unique visitors.

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