Retailers Ramp up Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Retailers Ramp up Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Retail

Last March we wrote about the increasingly important role that technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have in the marketing field. Since then, major businesses have continued to apply AR and VR to support a number of functions. Retailers have been especially keen to use these technologies for shopping. For example:

  • To capitalize on the uptick in mobile holiday shopping, Macy’s has launched an AR app that lets shoppers see pieces of furniture virtually within their homes, following the successful pilot of a VR experience to make furniture shopping more immersive. According to Macy’s, shoppers using VR headsets to view Macy’s furniture had more than a 60 percent greater average order value than non-virtual reality furniture shoppers.
  • Walmart recently announced the launch of new AR scanning tool in its iOS app to help customers with product comparisons. Unlike traditional barcode scanners (which allow price comparison on one item at a time), Walmart’s AR scanner can be aimed at multiple products on store shelves to view details on pricing and customer ratings.

Some studies predict the global economic impact of virtual and augmented reality to reach $29.5 billion. Although this number may sound overly optimistic, I do believe there is a lot of value in these technologies yet to be exploited. Both VR and AR have the potential to be among the most valuable tools in any marketer’s arsenal simply because they offer intimate and engaging experiences. They allow brands to build a more profound connection with consumers by offering personalized, interactive experiences. In addition, when combined with artificial intelligence, these technologies have the potential to help make life easier by empowering users to take immediate action (like completing a custom order on the spot).

VR and AR Defined

Even though they may look similar, VR and AR are different:

  • Virtual reality: refers to any kind of experience that places the user “in” another world or dimension usually by way of a headset with special lenses.
  • Augmented reality: the term we use when we place content “into” the real world by using cameras (e.g., Pokémon GO)

Although some brands have rushed to experiment with augmented reality on social media platforms, others are using AR and VR to support commerce. One of the cleverest campaigns was that one from the Spanish fast fashion retailer, Zara.

Although their storefronts may have appeared empty to the naked eye, they came to life when people pointed their phone’s camera at the shop’s window (or in-store podiums) after downloading the Zara AR App. This app enabled users to see seven-to-twelve-second sequences of models Léa Julian and Fran Summers wearing selected looks from the brand’s Studio Collection and allowed the viewers to instantly order any of the looks shown at the touch of a button.

 

Tommy Hilfiger is another example of a retail brand that has also deployed AR technology to improve the shopping experience in their stores. By placing digitally enhanced mirrors inside the fitting rooms, Tommy Hilfiger gave customers instant access to information like styles, models, sizes and colors available both in-store and online. The experience also allowed shoppers to request a new size or color without leaving the room and suggested other products to browse. These smart mirrors made product discovery much simpler and promoted sales by helping users find the right style.

iMirror for Retail from Pieter on Vimeo.

But the business potential seems almost unlimited when AR/VR is combined with artificial intelligence. An example is Salesforce’s Einstein AI technology, which was subject to practical testing along with Coca-Cola. As noted in this article from Diginomica:

Einstein was trained to recognize, identify and count the varieties and quantities of Coca-Cola bottles stored in one of its cooler display cabinets, simply by analyzing a photo taken with an iPad or iPhone. […] Einstein can then take that stock count and combine the information with predictions based on known seasonal variations, weather information from Watson [the IBM AI system], and upcoming promotions, to automatically calculate a restocking order.

There is no doubt about the potential benefits of new technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence for both consumers and businesses. In the ever-changing and dynamic world of digital marketing, it would be safe to expect tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to soon develop and introduce new features that accommodate for these technologies in their portfolio of products and services.

Facebook Changes the Narrative at F8

Facebook Changes the Narrative at F8

Social media

The 2018 Facebook F8 Developer Conference created an opportunity for Facebook to change the narrative about the embattled company. At the annual event, Facebook usually unveils new products and a glimpse at the company’s future. This year’s event just happened to occur only weeks after CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days on Capitol Hill defending the company’s approach to data privacy. So you can be sure Facebook was eager to inspire coverage about something besides Mark Zuckerberg going head to head with angry legislators and trying to assure investors that Facebook is improving its approach to protecting user data.

And Facebook delivered with a slew of announcements and demonstrations that reminded Facebook watchers of its commitment to connecting people through an ever-evolving social platform. Highlights included:

  • FaceDate, a dating feature in which Facebook members can make their profiles to non-friends who opt in to look for someone to date. With FaceDate, Facebook is reinforcing its core mission of connecting people, a mission that Facebook periodically updates as it did last year with the rollout of the “bring the world closer together” mantra. It looks as though Facebook wants to bring the world closer together one person at a time and in relationships that go beyond friending. It’s a reasonable move that doesn’t stray too far from Facebook on its best day: connecting people.
  • Augmented and virtual reality: Facebook has been marching down a path of creating augmented and virtual reality experiences for some time, as manifested by the purchase of VR firm Oculus in 2014. In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg placed AR/VR at the far end of a 10-year roadmap. Facebook F8 showed that Facebook appears to be right on schedule. The company released Oculus Go, a lightweight, relatively affordable VR headset that liberates VR from the confines of a stationary computer. Oculus Go is important because it’s supposed to make VR more affordable while delivering a reasonably high-quality VR experience. Meanwhile, on the AR front, Facebook showed off progress with its AR camera for interacting with AR content in the real world. Among other announcements, Facebook disclosed that AR is coming to its Messenger platform.

Facebook also embedded AR into the actual F8 experience, such as with an AR scavenger hunt in which participants looked for objects using their devices. Through the hunt, Facebook tested with the camera (accessible from inside Facebook) by, in effect, relying on F8 attendees as the test group. Although there is nothing inherently new about an AR scavenger hunt, the hunt gave Facebook a chance to test target-recognition technology, which unlocks AR effects without requiring you to tap on your camera app. The feature is not yet available and so F8 amounted to a beta test.

For two days, Facebook succeeded in repositioning itself as a media company shaping the future of social experiences. Some of the news coverage reflects the kind of narrative Facebook wanted to tell at F8:

Never mind that Facebook’s AR and VR experiences still come down to providing developing tools disconnected from consistently good content. What matters is that Facebook changed the narrative. For a larger rundown of everything Facebook announced at F8, go here. And contact us to discuss how to build your brand on Facebook.