Augmented Retail

Annie Weinberger, VP & GM at HP Aurasma, looks at the way AR is giving retailers a chance to bridge the gap between bricks-and-mortar and the digital world.

Annie headshot

If customer experience is the new battleground for marketers, then AR (Augmented Reality) is the next big gun – and that’s not some far-flung, futuristic prediction. It is happening around us, right now, with retail as one of the biggest arenas AR has the potential to disrupt. (As a reader of this site, I’ll assume that you know the score with AR but if you do want more on that, or just need a cool video to watch when you’re done with this article, I’ve got you covered.)

Tectonic shifts
Our media landscape has shifted dramatically in the past five years. Every walk of life has been disrupted by the rise of the smartphone, and retail – which is positioned near the top of that list – is no exception. The shift to mobile and digital is pervasive. 91 per cent of Americans now own a smartphone, and I think it’s fair to say most of us consider smartphones the hub of our digital lives. Mobile is the centre of how we access and consume information.

As our digital lives evolve then, by definition, so too do consumer expectations. The lines are blurred now, and we are all consumers as well as marketers. Digital marketing practices have adapted accordingly. It’s a brave new world of omnichannel experiences, deep analytics, and personalisation where you can really know your customers.

Today’s consumers are used to seamless experiences across every channel. They want you to be able to handle their needs no matter what channel they use to connect with you, and they want comparable experiences to boot. The whole scenario has marketers on their toes because the average consumer is more demanding, and there is more competition for their attention than ever before. Differentiated experiences are the only way to capture them.

So, how do you deliver that same, seamless experience (and meet their other expectations) with retail on the physical plane? How do you measure customer engagement, participation, conversion, and ROI—the metrics that are so vital on digital channels?

Bridging the gap
In case you haven’t seen where I’m going with this: the answer is AR, bridging the widening gap between traditional communication channels and digital or mobile.

AR leverages the benefits of both by driving customers to actionable digital funnels from physical interactions, just by scanning items with a smartphone. Brochures, manuals, posters, print ads, and other traditional media objects retain their tangible value, but also benefit from an increased shelf life, interactivity, boosted engagement, and measurability. It’s easy for brands to enhance their content and low effort for users to activate it, but the result delivers a high impact on the experience. More importantly, it has a real effect on ROI.

There are a whole host of ways a retail store can deploy AR to great effect. In-store signage can generate engagement with discounts, contests, and special promotions. Knowing that for retail shoppers, the most desirable email message from a brand is one that includes a discount, AR enables marketers to bring that same benefit to the brick and mortar store.

Packaging and merchandise can be enhanced with supplementary information and bonus content; printed ads and catalogues can be kept fresh and valuable; and visitors can see what products would look like in different places and settings.

And that’s all great. But only 37 per cent of retail marketers have a strategy in place to create these kinds of seamless customer experiences, in contrast to 59 per cent of marketers testing or assessing AR technology.

The next marketing channel
AR has the potential to deliver incredible returns. AMC Theatres saw a click-through rate of 75 per cent using AR trailers and coupons from posters in cinema lobbies. Argos uses all kinds of AR content to enhance their iconic catalogues. Budweiser received 350,000 interactions and saw a phenomenal 75-90 per cent redemption rate with a scan-to-win contest on limited edition packaging. In fact, 67 per cent of retailers think brands can improve sales with stronger brand or product representation on shelves. It’s clear that many are missing a trick.

AR delivers real and powerful value to brands, and better experiences for consumers. It’s also a natural evolution for marketers, uniting channels that they already understand in an easy and compelling way. But some are still behind the curve. Across retail and other sectors, we are seeing our customers succeed using AR. They are driving app downloads, increasing mobile engagement, unifying print and digital marketing materials, fostering positive brand sentiment, and increasing sales.

This is the next marketing channel. Are you on board?

Annie Weinberger is vice president and general manager of HP Aurasma