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Augmented Reality (AR) is the next keyword wet dream for the online industry buzz word bingo enthusiasts. As social media becomes more ingrained in commercial planning and the excitement fades into practical solutions, it’s inevitable that the new kid on the block will start to make headlines.
I think AR is an exciting development. However, behind the pomp that surrounds another buzz word, is there a commercial model that could make AR a practical tool in the e-commerce armoury?
I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say yes....
What is AR?
At a basic level, AR is the enrichment of your physical experience with virtual information and interaction. The best example to conceptualise this is the overlaying of maps on your mobile phone with local information such as directions to the nearest train station, which happens contextually as you navigate the map. For a more encompassing explanation, check out the Wikipedia entry for augmented reality.
What’s already out there?
The technology has been around for years, just think of televised American Football games where the play markers are overlayed on the pitch for viewers at home. While the commercial application of AR may be relatively new, forward thinking brands have been busy experimenting.
- Benetton used AR in a 2009 Colors magazine edition – pages with AR symbols could be held up to a webcam to display films of the person on the page. Whilst this is a basic application of what AR can achieve, Charles Arthur’s article on AR in the Guardian goes further and is worth reading.
- Glasses Direct has a neat 3D tool that allows you to try glasses on using your webcam and what they call a virtual mirror. You can try the virtual mirror from their website.
- Over in the US, Zugara offers the Augmented Reality and Motion Capture Shopping App. The app allows customers to render clothing onto their own bodies using a webcam. An intuitive interface lets you browse items and styles and get a feel for how the clothes will look on you. It also integrates neat community features like sharing pictures of your outfits with friends to get their opinion. You can then buy direct from the app.
GM is working with universities to develop a smart windscreen that overlays important information on the transparent windscreen display to enhance the driver’s ability to see objects in their physical space. I’m a bit unsure about this one and whether or not it could distract drivers and actually decrease safety but the concept is worth reading about.
What will drive the uptake of AR?
Quite simply, the increased usage of smart mobile devices like the iPhone, Blackberry, Kindle, iPad etc. There is a lot of discussion about the shift from desktop to mobile and the prediction that in several years time e-commerce will be dominated by mobile browsing.
The latest data from ComScore shows a 30% increase in social networking traffic among smartphone users in the past 12 months – so mobile is already driving social media usage. Research from Forrester shows that iPhone users are more affluent than users of other smartphones, therefore have a high propensity to respond to relevant retail offers direct to their phone. The average internet usage for an iPhone user is 100MB, x30 larger than on other phones. And we all know about the obsession with the iPhone App Store.
Where can it be applied for retail?
Attention spans will only decrease as technology breeds laziness and the expectation of rapid solution delivery. This means people will expect everything at their fingertips when they want it. The savvy marketers will deliver content and solutions that people didn’t even know they wanted but subconsciously always desired. I think retail can tap into this latent demand in several ways:
- High street retailers can develop a Store Finder mobile app that overlays local store information on interactive maps – perhaps an aggregation of all major brands would provide cost efficiency.
- Dynamic contextual advertising that displays offers and promotions based on the location and profile of the mobile user (e.g. iPhone user gets different message than Blackberry user) – next step on from voucher code sites.
- Serving customer reviews to mobile devices to facilitate decision making on the move.
- Dynamically generating cross and up-sell recommendations based on scanning a barcode in-store on your mobile phone.
- For the fashion industry, improving modelling of clothes from home to help make purchase decisions – increased accuracy should also help reduce returns.
- For the DIY industry, enabling customers to create 3D maps of their own rooms and then visually render colour schemes and furniture to help with DIY projects.
- Local tourist boards can create mobile maps of the region with key tourist hotspots, attractions and services – whilst free of charge they benefit the economy by encouraging spending.
- Museums could create virtual tours so that visitors are not reliant on a guided tour/headsets – for a download fee, you can launch the virtual tour which overlays commentary and content based on your location within the museum.
- In publishing, AR could be used to enrich the consumption of content to increase brand engagement, essential in such a competitive market.
So what do you think? Is AR powder puff or can it add real value to consumers and drive commercial value? I’m leaning to the latter because the increasing uptake of mobile devices gives me hope that AR solutions will catch the eye. I await the professional slaughter...