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The basic concept of augmented reality, or AR, has been around since the turn of the 20th century. As early as 1901, author L. Frank Baum, creator of the Oz books, discussed spectacles and electronic devices that could overlay information on top of real-world images. Hollywood began experimenting with AR during the 1950s, but it was not until the 1970s that significant progress began to be made on AR wearable tech. The “next big thing” in AR was its use for television weather maps, followed quickly by its implementation in video gaming.

Today, developers are creating a vast array of devices and applications specifically designed to merge the physical world with the digital. However, AR should not be confused with virtual reality. Virtual reality completely replaces the “real world” with a totally virtual world; augmented reality blends the two worlds into a single experience. Savvy marketers have already begun to leverage AR in a variety of ways, and many more creative uses are sure to follow.

Bridging the Gap Between Physical and Online Stores

Suppose your customers could call your physical store and ask your employee to show them the selection of, for example, gold bracelets. Your employee dons a pair of 3D video glasses and looks at the bracelets while discussing the different aspects of each in turn. Your customer sees the bracelets in a realistic setting and in a way that no photograph could capture; the experience is almost like actually being in your store. This is the idea behind a collaborative effort between GoInStore and Dawsons Music. The service has been tested with staff members but awaits additional refinements before its public launch.

Interior Decorating

Suppose your customers wanted to know how a paint color would work with their existing furniture or determine whether a piece they are considering would fit in the desired location. They could snap a few pictures of the room with their smartphones and then use your app to “repaint” or place the new furniture in their homes. Numerous retailers, including Ikea, Ballard Designs, Lowe’s and Moosejaw, have all been experimenting with such apps and other immersive shopping experiences.

Speaking of Immersive Experiences

When you say the name “Gucci,” most people recognize it as a leader in the world of high fashion. Gucci has developed an immersive shopping experience for its customers at its Milan store. Life-sized virtual fashion shows give customers the feeling that they are standing next to the catwalk while store-provided tablets let them freeze the action or rotate the model to see the garment from all angles. Nor did Gucci forget the children; kids can be entertained by a virtual teddy bear that dances for them while they control his movements with hand gestures.

What’s Next?

Predictions always carry an element of chance, but certain trends have been emerging that have been supported by industry insiders. Here are the trends that are expected to continue the evolution of AR.

  • Marketers will continue to use the immersive experience, but they will find new ways to delight their customers.
  • AR will be used to help achieve business goals, such as inventory status or reduction and the collection of big data.
  • AR will be integrated with other technologies, such as kiosks and beacons, to give customers a more engaging, multi-channel experience.
  • Customers will prefer using their smartphones for AR experiences, rather than glasses or tablets.
  • Marketers will develop apps to “put” the user into a digital world. For example, users will be able to upload videos or images that can be superimposed in exotic locations or at distant meetings.
  • AR technology will continue to evolve and become less expensive and more convenient.

The world of augmented reality is poised to explode over the next five years. Clever marketers are already working on creative ways to use AR for customer engagement, but only time will reveal the variety of ways in which it can be used.

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