The concept of Augmented Reality (AR) has been a phenomenon that is capturing marketers’ interest in recent years. With its potential to change a range of experiences, AR is set to alter the way we find new products and ultimately how we decide which ones to buy. At one time, it seemed impossible that we would no longer live in an age where people would have to read physical maps, follow a tour guide around a museum or be able to see which sunglasses suit your face or which lipstick looks good on you without physically trying anything on. AR makes all of these things possible and more.
AR technology enhances the physical environment you see by overlaying virtual elements, such as information or images over it, either through displays such as HoloLens and Google Glass or through the camera view on your smartphone. With AR related apps such as Snapchat taking the world by storm and proving to be a force here to stay, other “fads” such as Pokemon Go have proven to be a quick craze, soon forgotten about. The question remains whether AR itself will be a fad, or the beginning of something amazing.
Of course, there are practical reasonings for how AR can be applied to everyday life. As mobile commerce grows, merchants still struggle to come close to the conversions of desktop. Despite these tough obstacles, AR is proving to drive mobile app engagement and conversions by allowing shoppers to try virtual products at home from their mobile devices before buying. Consumers have been proven to spend four times more time on a site or app using augmented reality versus one without it therefore spend more time engaging with brand and products and become more invested in their purchase decisions. Removing the “uncertainty” involved with online shopping increases the shopper's confidence in his or her purchase and reduces returns by 22%. By removing the guesswork of online shopping and allowing consumers to better perceive what the product will look like before clicking 'buy now”, AR greatly facilitates the path to purchase.
In a marketing sense, it should be noted that AR is not about creating a completely new reality, it’s about enhancing what already exists. When the virtual is well fitted with the physical and interacts with it, that’s when AR magic happens. As opposed to virtual reality, which immerses you into a different world. AR intertwines virtual elements that might be missing in a specific situation within physical reality. This is one of the reasons why people Snapchat’s AR feature, where users can play with different visual effects to transform ordinary videos into shareable stories.
The crucial part of the AR experience is whether the technology adds real value. Simply overlaying something virtual on a phone screen doesn’t always cut it and can appear gimmicky. Similarly, an app that overlays information and promotions on your phone screen when you point the camera to different stores on a street or products in a shop sounds useful, but marketers have to ask: Are consumers really going to walk down the street holding their tablets or smartphones in the air? The answer is probably no. People will only change their behavior if they perceive the value is worth the effort of adding another information layer into an already saturated digital space. So it’s important to think about the contexts in which they may be willing to do this before adopting AR into the marketing strategy.