January 15, 2018

How augmented reality could create a new shopping experience

4 minute read

In September 2017, Apple launched iOS11 complete with ARKit – a framework that enables developers to incorporate augmented reality (AR) into their apps with ease.

Before ARKit, augmented reality would have required considerable time and expense for anyone looking to use it, but iOS11 opened it up as a viable medium for businesses everywhere. Swedish furniture giant IKEA have become one of the first companies to release a retail app featuring augmented reality, with their interactive furniture catalogue IKEA Place.

That’s not to say that augmented reality is new; we’ve been familiar with AR for recreational purposes for a while now. Games like Pokémon GO and social media apps like Snapchat have both made extensive use of augmented reality technology, to place animated characters in real settings and to add layers of animated facial recognition respectively. Yet IKEA Place signals what could be a new guise for AR and a new format marketers can use to appeal to consumers.

IKEA has a strong retail presence both in the form of their physical stores and their online shopping experience, so it offers a great example of omnichannel in action. We’ve taken a closer look at IKEA Place and how augmented reality could feed into an omnichannel marketing approach that further bridges the gap between online and physical shopping.

How does IKEA Place work?

Imagine you’re in the market for a new sofa. You have an idea of the size, style and colour you want, but the most important thing is that it goes with the rest of your room and its décor. IKEA are hoping to take the guesswork out of furniture shopping by allowing customers to virtually place their new sofa directly in their home and see what it will look like in situ all via the medium of AR and a smartphone or tablet.

IKEA Place works by first scanning and mapping the space in question through the device camera, then lets you choose items you’d like to see in your room from the catalogue. The app places lifelike 3D versions of the furniture on the live screenshot of your room, and allows you to move them around, rotate them and change your options until you’re happy with how it looks. You can share images or videos of your virtual room and most importantly, click straight through to the online store to buy your chosen pieces.

Although IKEA has many stores around the country, there are still many people who live too far from a store to shop there regularly. Place could help IKEA reach these potential customers, offering them a personal and more tangible perspective of their products than simply viewing them on a website. Nothing may recreate sitting on a sofa to test its comfort, but the personalised product preview offered by Place may help to alleviate some of the uncertainty when investing in furniture online and give more remote customers the confidence to buy.

Other AR apps work in similar ways, such as French cosmetic store Sephora’s Virtual Artist app, which uses facial recognition to enable users to see how various lip and eye shades will look before they buy. Chinese online supermarket Yihaodian has taken augmented reality several steps further, creating virtual ‘shops’ in designated open locations without having to invest in a single physical store. Shoppers can use the company’s app to browse virtual aisles and shelves through the camera, and touch items on screen to add them to their shopping basket and have them delivered directly to their homes.

How could augmented reality fit within omnichannel marketing?

We looked at omnichannel marketing approaches in an earlier blog, and how data is key to providing a seamless personalised consumer journey across multiple channels. The introduction of augmented reality for marketers adds another means for enhancing the shopping experience for customers, and could form an important link between online and in-store consumer pathways.

So, how could AR contribute to and enhance omnichannel marketing campaigns and give customers more reason to buy? Let’s use IKEA Place as an example to explore this.

Personalised product recommendations in the app

Just like its other apps and digital mediums, Place enables IKEA to gather valuable behavioural and preferential data about its customers, building consumer profiles over time. Eventually, Place could use this data to suggest furniture styles, colourways and trends within the app that are likely to appeal to specific users, or to compliment previous purchases – after all, much of IKEA’s furniture is designed to work together within one room.

Personalised product reminders in-store

Using Bluetooth iBeacons or geo-fencing, IKEA would be able to tell when people who have the Place app are in-store. As they move through departments, IKEA could send push-notifications to remind them of products they have liked and/or saved but not yet purchased when they are near the display in-store, reminding them how good they look in their homes and encouraging them to take a look at the real thing.

Or, if Place becomes able to save scanned rooms, consumers could point their phones at products in-store to view them in their homes remotely, enabling them to instantly visualise how they could look.

This kind of Bluetooth-enabled marketing also provides a huge amount of data about the way customers move through a store, via the products they look at. IKEA could use this data to inform how they build in-store displays, and to gain an understanding of the products that are considered but not purchased, with the help of an in-app survey asking why they decided not to buy particular products.

Personalised offers through IKEA’s Family loyalty scheme
True omnichannel marketing means recognising customers across every communication channel you offer. Where customers have both the Place app and are members of IKEA’s Family loyalty scheme (which creates promotions based on previous shopping behaviour), IKEA could combine data to offer them personalised offers based on the items they have experimented with within the Place app, such as 10% off that chair you’ve viewed in your living room.

An exciting addition to the omnichannel marketing mix

Augmented reality is fun and novel but still a very young technology; it will undoubtedly become more sophisticated in the years to come. The Place app is also still in its infancy but there’s definitely plenty of scope for IKEA to develop it and integrate it with other elements of its marketing output for a richer shopping experience.

Perhaps more importantly, AR has the potential to help close the gap between online and in-store consumer journeys, linking them as one branded experience rather than two separate pathways. We know most consumers don’t exclusively shop in-store or online, so we need marketing means that reflect this. Used hand in hand with other data-led channels in the omnichannel marketing mix, we expect to see augmented reality creating some exciting and innovative formats through which businesses can boost sales and add value for their customers.

For now though, why not get in touch with us to find out more about how we can use data to allow your business to better communicate with your target markets

Posted by Sarah Cumber


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How augmented reality could create a new shopping experience