Meta Leadership Primer: Augmented Reality in Retail

As many retail businesses strive to remain in business, technology has offered them the opportunity to outsell and outperform their rivals. Unfortunately, the competition gets even more intense as each party adopts the latest advancements in technology. One of the most significant advancements in technology that have helped businesses is the introduction of Augmented Reality or AR. Now businesses can prove their level of tech advancement and earn more reputation from their customers by providing better customer experience. Most retail businesses have leveraged their businesses using AR and today they are far ahead of other brick-and-mortar stores; the ones that are still in business though.

To help us get through this concept effortlessly, we seldom ask; “What is Augmented Reality?”

Augmented Reality is a form of enhanced reality where the insertion of digital virtual information enhances a real-world experience.

This may seem a bit sci-fi for those not so tech savvy individuals, but all is not lost. Basically, it is a way of making a specific environment look better and more engaging by introducing computer-generated simulations which can be experienced through our smartphones or connected devices. Think of it like this, using a devices camera and screen to overlay any object onto the reality of the images provided by the camera of that device.

Many people sometimes confuse augmented reality with virtual reality. Augmented reality is an enhancement of the real-world experience; just as its name would imply, it augments what is already there. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is a complete replacement of the real-world experience, throwing the observer into a stance of completely simulated reality; as a matter of fact, the observer’s senses are entirely overwritten in the case of VR.

AR and Retailing

Many retail stores have switched to AR to give their customers a fascinating experience while shopping. Not just speaking about one off tech pioneers, major brands from Amazon with their Smart Mirror that actually overlays various clothes on users so they can “essentially” try before they buy. Nike has the same thing with their Size finder. It can help users determine the size and fit of a specific shoe prior to buying. Home Depot app has a feature that allows you to place items in their inventory anywhere in your home to see how it will look in a very personal setting.

A few retailers have even implemented this technology into a sort of “Product Finder” while in the retail location. All customers need to do is install the retailer’s AR app from application stores (App Store or Google Play Store, as the case may be) then go into the store, scan the barcode of the product they need or perhaps type the product name. Then with the help of the camera on their smartphones, they are guided to the part of the store where that particular product is. They don’t have to keep an eye on the store environment as their smartphone has a better view of the environment, an enhanced view, an augmented reality of the store. Simple as that! Customers don’t have to look for an in-store staff on the aisle to direct him or her to a product, with the AR, everything is familiar.

AR can be very expensive, depending on how far you want to take things it can get really expensive and that is why only huge e-commerce companies adopted the use for extremes at first but now even small and medium-sized businesses can take their business to a whole new level using the AR as well. I even implemented a small aspect of it in the promotion of my previous book “Meta Leadership” you can see it on YouTube by searching “Augmented Reality enabled Meta Leadership book cover!”. Nice little AR promotional video plays over the camera screen of the smartphone. I was able to do this for free, using The HPReveal application and studio.

Even though extensive AR efforts may be cost prohibitive for most businesses, they can build an AR that offers virtual tours around the store and object recognition to help the searching of objects at a far cheaper price. They can do this by strategically collaborating with freelancers and small development firms. More of the Gig economy later, wink!

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The Relevance of AR in Retail Businesses

AR, was announced with much fanfare. A lot of which has died down recently due to the slow adoption. Mae no mistake it is here, and its prevalence is continuing to expand with the potential to be of great potential significance to the world at large and its relevance in e-commerce and the transformation of traditional retailing cannot be overemphasized.

1. Building Brand Awareness: Augmented Reality is one of the junctions where retail businesses have met technology, and this has somehow made it possible for businesses to create a broader awareness campaigns and set their brands ahead of their competitors as the AR immerses them into the messaging and branding even more than their standard marketing campaigns could even dream about.

2. Improve Customer Experience: With AR more things can be done while shopping. Just imagine how much; customers can now try a product virtually like trying out a shoe without actually wearing it and trying on countless summer dresses without even leaving the house. All these are possible with AR RIGHT NOW, now consider if your product or service offering can be leveraged by AR.

3. Less In-store Staff: AR from an information, guidance or in-store assistance perspective helps to cut down the cost and efforts of managing human workers because of the reduced customer demand on staff time. THIS IS WITH THE COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING THAT THE TECH HAS BEEN FULLY TESTED AND FUNCTIONAL. All caps because this cannot be understated. Technology is great in so many ways, but the negative effects of a bad experience can be really really bad! For example: In a downloadable whitepaper provided by CallidusCloud they report that 71% of customers stop buying after a bad experience. Just something to keep in mind when considering any customer facing technology initiatives.

4. Operational Efficiency: The impact AR offers from an operational efficiency and competitive advantage stance is almost immeasurable. Consider the reduction in returns and refunds for items that do not fit, are the wrong size etc. Now, for the ridiculous competitive advantage claim. Have you heard of In-Store Analytics? OK, thought not, In-store Analytics as defined by Sightcorp is “basically the process of analyzing and pulling meaningful insights from customer behavioral data”. That’s some graduate level management strategies. Where are the hot spots, where are customers eyes focused during the visit, How are they reacting to staff interactions or even which staff are consistently pleasing to customers and what specifically are they doing to make it so?

BAM, there you have it, the retail industry has found an evolutionary technology that has placed their business at the top of its game. Is this something you can leverage. Or better yet who is using AR technologies in ways that you can benefit from? That’s Meta Leadership, That’s Next Practices live and in 4k!

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