AR Commerce is a Gift to Brands this Holiday Season

12/20/2017 12:11 pm ET

By Brian McLaughlin, Design Director at ustwo

There are some predictable retail traditions we can all bank on this time of year — competing sales, wall-to-wall marketing noise, and gimmicky promotions. Every year it becomes a little harder for all but the biggest players to stand out, much less make a real and memorable connection with consumers through the holiday frenzy.

But, for all the high-tech tools that brands use to get a leg up during the holiday season, there’s one that stands out as much-hyped and under-utilized—augmented reality (AR). Often lumped in with its more immersive, but more complicated cousin, virtual reality, AR can be a much more accessible, just as rewarding tool for brands looking to add some depth and interest into their holiday marketing mix.

While brands generally view AR as a way to create long-term, everyday shopping features, such as makeup or clothing “try on” apps, it’s also a perfect tool to create timely interactions during the holiday shopping season. With big players like Google and Apple releasing new mobile developer tools like ARCore and AR Kit, and introducing features like Animojis to the mainstream consumer, AR is becoming a big part of people’s everyday lives.

AR creates physical connections

As we all learned during the Pokemon Go phenomenon, AR Treasure hunt games are an obvious (and fun) way to lure consumers out of their homes and into the world. But, AR can also bring the store to the shopper. In China, Yihaodian grocery stores have set up 1,000 virtual shops. Each is invisible to the naked eye, but by holding up an AR app on their phone, shoppers can see and purchase a full selection of groceries that can later be delivered to their homes. Similarly, this past summer, Nike released limited-edition sneakers exclusively on its SNKRS app, which combined geotagging, image recognition and AR features consumers needed to utilize in order to unlock purchasing power.

Wayfinding systems like these create immersive campaigns that drive sales and foot traffic to store, and spark brand moments throughout the shopping experience. During the holidays, this approach could be used to integrate a brand into existing holiday destinations and events, or to show consumers holiday products inside their homes.

AR amplifies products

2017 is the first year that online shopping is expected to beat in-store holiday sales. While that’s great for some retailers, getting a single product to stand out online can be more challenging than in-store, where physical placements and displays can go a long way towards grabbing attention.

Brands are starting to develop virtual “try on” experiences to personalize customer engagement,  — like the Ikea Place, and Warby Parker Glasses apps — which can help consumers get a sense of dimensions by “trying on” an item to see how it fits to their body or in their home. This can go a long way towards building a connection with someone rather than scrolling through hundreds of products.

AR enhances the shopping journey

The most impactful AR experiences for brands aren’t simple one-offs, but are tools that can guide a consumer, from product selection to payment. During the holidays, when consumers are making a larger number of purchases, AR could act as a guide for the entire holiday shopping process.

For example, retailers like Burberry and Uniqlo are leveraging “magic mirrors” with AR features, which allow consumers to request new styles and sizes directly to their changing room and take 360-degree photographs to send for external input. This interactivity makes the shopping experience more efficient and intuitive.

AR-related shopping technology, like the magic mirrors, also offers brands data that’s not commonly found in-store. This gives retailers critical insight into the consumer’s thought process during their in-store shopping journey — whether that’s related to colors, sizes or intention to buy. The more data retailers have access to, the more personalized an experience they can offer.

AR can make memories

The holidays aren’t just about consumerism. They’re about fun and tradition. Many stores have made a name for themselves by offering shoppers rich experiences, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the holiday window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue. But imagine if these physical window displays were eliminated, and instead lived entirely in AR…

AR allows for immense creativity, personalization and interactivity. It can bring a fresh opportunity to brands who want to connect with consumers by offering them a holiday fantasy. Making an AR experience an annual, must-see tradition would be a great way for any retailer to get in on the ground floor of a technology that is rapidly integrating itself into our everyday lives.

Right now, the future of AR is wide open. Consumers are showing considerable interest in using it in their daily lives, but it’s up to creatives and brands to explore its possibilities. By this time next year, it’s almost certain that more brands will be using it to make the holidays that much brighter.

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