Whether your knowledge of augmented reality (AR) begins and ends with adding bunny noses to your face during video chats, or you’ve spent endless hours virtually furnishing your living room, one thing’s for certain – augmented reality is having a moment. Using our smartphones and other devices to interact with digital objects in the real world is becoming more a part of our lives than ever, but there’s a new frontier emerging as AR pulls ahead of its once-dominant cousin VR, and it’s not all about fun, games and cutesy photo filters. There’s big business to be done.
According to Silicon Valley AR/VR experts Digi-Capital, widespread adoption of mobile AR platforms could see an installed base closing in on 3.5 billion by 2022. That’s a ton of AR apps, games and software, all with the potential to provide opportunities for businesses to drive up their bottom line. As the technology advances with the introduction and availability of additional delivery devices such as smart glasses and mixed reality goggles, the experiences are only going to get bolder, more immersive and more interactive.
Everyone from startups to the Fortune 500 is looking for ways to implement AR experiences into their businesses. And while the immersive tech also offers companies a laundry list of innovative ways to do things like design new products, train employees, and help existing customers troubleshoot the products they’ve already purchased, it’s AR’s ability to drive sales that remains the holy grail.
Enhance your environment
One of the first companies to make a splash with AR in the retail space was Swedish furniture giant Ikea. Their innovative Ikea Place app launched to much fanfare in September 2017, rising to the top of Apple’s free ARKit-only app charts, second only to the game AR Dragon. The Place app was groundbreaking, allowing customers to use AR and their device’s camera to see what hundreds of Ikea products might look like in their homes before they buy. Customers could add items to their carts right in the app at the tap of a screen.
While Ikea isn’t in the business of sharing their sales stats, a 2018 press release from another popular furniture/home decor AR app, Houzz shared that since the initial launch of their own View in My Room 3D app for iOS in May 2017, “over a million people have used AR when buying products in the Houzz app,” adding that customers using the AR tool were 11 times more likely to purchase and spent 2.7 times longer in the app.
Those are some powerful numbers, proving that as the technology of app-driven AR shopping improves, allowing customers to add and manipulate increasingly lifelike objects in multiple environments (complete with accurate textures and lighting), engagement goes up, as does the potential for them to buy without ever having to visit a store.
Beautify yourself with AR
Companies across the board have been getting in on the AR game, but one retail segment, in particular, stands out as having perhaps the most potential for AR use – health and beauty. Using easily-downloaded mobile AR apps, cosmetics retailers can offer potential customers the opportunity to try out their products from the privacy of their homes.
Toronto-based AR developer ModiFace has been working with beauty companies all over the world to bring their innovative AR products to apps everywhere, allowing companies small and big to sell their beauty products. Samsung even baked their tech into the latest Galaxy S9 devices.
From makeup and eyebrows, to hair colour and the most recent Virtual Nail Salon app – which adds Apple’s Core ML machine learning to help automatically identify thousands of hand motions and positions – the health and beauty segment has huge potential for driving sales. So much so that in March of last year ModiFace was acquired by L’Oreal. Clearly, the cosmetics giant sees the value in AR tech to market to their customers across all their brands, saying in a statement that “ModiFace will support the reinvention of the beauty experience around innovative services to help our customers discover, try and choose products and brands.”
Perfect Corp, a rival in the space with its AI- and AR-based products called Beauty 3.0, just launched a series of new apps at CES this year. Since 2014, Perfect Corp. says its apps have now been downloaded 700 million times. As reported by TechCrunch, the company says its tools help its retail partners to increase basket sizes, reduce the volume of returned products and provide valuable data about their customers’ buying habits.
And that’s just on the mobile AR front. Brick and mortar stores like MAC have seen success with their AR Mirror, which allows customers to stop by and try on products virtually without having to share sample lipsticks and mascaras with other customers.
Amazon is even getting in on the game, albeit more in the fashion segment, having just taken out a patent on their own “blended reality” mirror. As reported by GeekWire, the system would use a series of cameras, displays, mirrors and projectors to put your image into a virtual scene. With the ability to overlay different outfits and accessories, you could potentially see how a certain dress looks backdropped by, say, the Caribbean Sea while on your next vacation or on the runway at a gala dinner.
The setup would be powered by Amazon’s Echo Look Camera to act as your personal Alexa-enabled fashion assistant, all, of course, tapped into Amazon’s massive catalogue of products delivered right to your door.
And all that is just scratching the surface. According to Statistica, worldwide AR advertising spending was projected to hit $12.8 billion in 2017, and as we saw with Pokémon Go, the potential for hyper-local advertising for companies is huge.
As more platforms for consuming AR emerge, such as AR glasses like Focals by North, that now look as ordinary and stylish as regular glasses, and mixed reality goggles like Magic Leap that combine virtual reality worlds with interactive augmented reality elements, how we interact with the world with AR is changing fast. And as we’re seeing, businesses big and small have an opportunity to use AR tech to push their bottom lines to the limit.