What Augmented Reality Means for Customer Experience

Ian Monk, CEO of online retailer Bathrooms.com tells us what augmented reality means for customer experience and how different brands are utilising this advance in technology.

Augmented reality is what happens when virtual reality meets the real world. Augmented reality devices like Google Glass use screens to layer digital information or images over the real world. Users can interact with the digital items almost as if they were real, using their hands, arms or bodies to move the items around.

augmented reality
Mobile augmented reality, in action – photo credit

Augmented reality has quite a long future ahead of it, but it is already changing at least one part of the retail game: the customer experience. It is changing how customers interact with printed materials. It is changing how they shop in the real store, and it is changing how they engage with the brand, no matter where they are in the sales cycle.

It makes printed materials more interactive.

Augmented reality is already being used to change the way consumers interact with printed materials. Topshop and Moosejaw both produced magazines that users could scan to get additional views, buy clothes and more. Starbucks took it to another level, though. They printed scannable holiday cups for Valentine’s Day and Christmas that when scanned played a special video. Customers could then send the video to friends, along with personalised messages and Starbucks cards. It turned a coffee run into a chance to watch a fun video and send friends and family nice gifts and messages.

Essentially, augmented reality turns things as mundane as catalogues and paper cups into interactive content providers and chances to make impulse purchases. It changes the experience of looking at a magazine or sipping coffee from passive activities into active ones.

It changes how people shop in the real world, keeping them in the store.

Shops are using augmented reality to change the way people shop in the bricks and mortar shop, and as a result, people are spending longer in the shops. Topshop incorporated this in one of their shops, where they had giant screens which featured Kinect technology. These screens allowed shoppers to try on outfits without having to queue for the changing rooms. To do this, they posed with their arms over their heads, so the Kinect could take a photo of them. Then they waved their hands in the air to select outfits, and the screen would overlay a digital version of the garment. They could move around, and the garment would move with them, too. Instead of seeing the queue for the changing room and leaving, customers could wave their arms and try on all the clothes in the shop.

If this kind of technology were incorporated in more stores, it would change how customers shop and what employees do. After all, by not going into a changing room, the customer isn’t spending time putting on and taking off clothes. They are just spending time picking out what they want. And employees aren’t having to clean out the rooms, re-hang or re-fold the clothes and put them back out on the shelves. Instead, they can focus on helping customers directly. Shopping could become much more personal, and it could be as fast or slow-paced as the customer wants.

It can keep people engaged before, during and after purchase.

In perhaps the most remarkable shift in customer experience, augmented reality can increase consumers’ engagement with brands before, during and after the purchase is made. Bathrooms.com is doing this with their augmented reality app. It allows customers to see what the bathroom products will look like in their own homes, keeping the items to scale, so customers get an accurate idea of how a product will look. It also allows customers to take photos of the virtual product and buy the real thing, all within the app.

bathrooms.com augmented reality app
© Bathrooms.com

Customers are engaging with the brand at all points before, during and after the sale. They can fantasise about bathroom renovations before they are ready to buy. They can see how the products will look when they are researching what to buy. They can buy the products in the app. Then they can show their friends and family what the new bathroom will look like, before the products have even arrived. Before, during and after the sale, customers can play with the products and engage with the brand.

Cadillac got people who weren’t even in the sales cycle to engage with their brand with an app and some chalk art. They had chalk artists create works of art along the streets of New York, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Passersby could download the app and watch the artwork come to life. As a result, 56,000 people used the app, and 900,000 people talked about the campaign on various social media sites.

They got all of this engagement, much of it from people who were not thinking of buying a vehicle at that point. When they are ready, though, the campaign will likely pop back into their minds, sending at least a few to the nearest Cadillac dealership.

Augmented reality is still a young technology, so it is far from reaching its full potential when it comes to customer experience. Still, it is already changing how customers interact with magazines, packaging, bricks and mortar shops and the brand itself. It’s only a matter of time before we see how augmented reality completely revolutionises the customer experience.