Articles Retail & E-commerce Technology

Augmented Reality in Retail

October 22, 2016
augmented reality in retail

*Before we start, let’s first find out what augmented reality is. Apparently, there is a lot of confusion about what the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) really is. These two technologies might appear similar, but they are not. VR refers to an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment (example: going on a space odyssey with Oculus Rift); AR layers digital enhancements atop of existing reality and enables users to interact with these enhancements (imagine a huge whale jumping out of water in the middle of a school gym).


Augmented reality surely is a hot topic right now that attracts attention across all kinds of industries, from entertainment (the whole new world of the game and app development!) to automotive engineering, healthcare, and defense. It’s no wonder that all major tech companies – Microsoft, HTC, Google, Apple, you name it, – are jumping on the AR bandwagon. After all, augmented reality offers endless opportunities for marketers and advertisers to reach their audience and sell their products even better.

The insanely successful launch of Pokémon Go earlier this year and the release of the Lenovo’s AR smartphone made it possible to use this technology in our daily lives. But more importantly, it showed  the potential of augmented reality for mainstream adoption. Now, it will become a part of our everyday routine ever faster than we all can imagine. According to the Augmented/Virtual reality report 2016, its combined revenue will reach $120 billion (AR revenue amounts to $90 billion) by 2020.  For augmented reality, the future is clearly looking bright, to say the least. But before we start talking about the future of this technology, let’s take a look at its past.

A Brief History of Augmented Reality

One might think that augmented reality has been around for no more than a couple of years. But surprisingly enough, it dates back to 1960s. In 1968, Ivan Sutherland, who is deservedly called the ‘father of computer graphics’, and one of his students created the Sword of Damocles – the very first virtual and augmented reality head-mounted display (HMD) system. That was the start of the completely new field that later has developed into the virtual and augmented reality technologies we know today.

augmented reality in retail

The Sword of Damocles, 1968

However, the term ‘augmented reality’ was non-existent until 1992 when it was first introduced by researchers at Boenig to describe a see-through HMD system. In the following years, advances in the field of augmented and virtual reality were mostly pioneered by numerous universities and research labs all over the globe. Those inventions were used extensively in healthcare, manufacturing, air force, and automotive industries. To the present day, augmented reality was mostly focused on enterprise rather than the consumer sector. However, it has already started shifting slowly towards consumer-focused fields, such as marketing, entertainment, retail, and even publishing and printing.

augmented reality in retail

Esquire’s augmented reality issue (December 2009)

Augmented Reality in Retail

Without any doubt, augmented reality will change the way brands are interacting with their audience. In fact, it already is transforming the whole customer experience. Augmented reality offers a lot of unique opportunities to reach and connect with the audience. Now consumers can see, try-on and ‘experience’ products before the actual purchase. From IKEA’s AR catalog that lets you virtually preview furniture in your own home to Sephora‘s Virtual Artist app, augmented reality is making its way in consumers market. Now you can forget about spending your precious time in fitting rooms; instead, you can use a virtual fitting room and choose a pair of Ralph Lauren jeans that fit you the best in few minutes. And forget about all those times you bought a new lipstick just because it was a ‘winter make-up trend’  and then never used it even once. Sephora, LÓreal, and Rimmel got you covered: try on as many products and shades as you want, and get the one that compliments you the most. No more trials and errors.

augmented reality in retail

Ralph Lauren interactive fitting room developed by Oak Labs

Augmented reality in retail makes the whole buying decision process way easier for consumers. There is no rush, you can simply check a mobile app, virtually ‘try’ the product, take as long as you need to make a decision and get the best option. When it comes to something more serious than choosing another piece of clothing or a new eye palette, augmented reality can be a real life-saver. In 2011, DeBeers introduced the ‘Forevermark Fitting’ app, enabling customers to try on different pieces (mostly earrings and pendants) from the Forevemark collection and choose the one that suits their skin tone and face shape the most. The potential of the technology is obviously immense.

Augmented reality provides brands with new ways of capturing consumers’ attention, and creating a strong emotional connection with their audience, which then transforms into loyalty. AR can bring anything to life: be it product packaging, outdoor and advertising, web pages, clothing or even a building. Hugo Boss’s 2009 Christmas campaign is a great example of how augmented reality can help brands to increase awareness and the number of in-store visits while offering truly unique experiences. Compared to all other jolly Christmas-y shop windows, Hugo Boss’s one definitely stood out: a large-scale black interactive shop-window came alive every time shoppers presented a special handout card and displayed a short fashion show. After that, shoppers were encouraged to enter the store, where another augmented reality installation (spoiler: it was a game of blackjack with a chance of winning £250) was awaiting. Who wouldn’t want to come back to Hugo Boss store after such an experience?

What does the future hold?

Augmented reality is here to stay. There is no doubt about that. More importantly, it will continue transforming consumer experiences, changing the retail industry and taking it further down the online path. As we already mentioned in the previous article, augmented reality shopping will eventually completely merge digital and retail experiences. Aside from that, augmented reality opens a whole new world for paid ads, sponsored content, and all kinds of advertising. Can you imagine living in a world like that?

HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

While some of the augmented reality technologies still feel like science fiction that has come live (can you imagine checking your emails in the holographic AR app? Crazy!), numerous tech start-ups, such as Magic Leap, are already working on the next big thing – Mixed Reality. But that is a story for another day.

What do you think about augmented reality? Share your thoughts in the comment section or connect with us on social media, we would love to hear your opinions!

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