Relevance of Augmented Reality in retail and e-commerce sector
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Relevance of Augmented Reality in retail and e-commerce sector

Augmented reality (AR) is virtual (non-real) reality that aims to duplicate the world's environment in a computer.  It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.

To understand the relevance of ‘Augmented Reality’ in Retail and eCommerce sector, Nitin Abbey spoke to Varun Suri, Senior Manager, Augmented Reality Solutions, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions (RBEI). Here are a few excerpts from the interview.

How ‘Augmented Reality’ as a technology can be utilised in online and offline retail?

The retail landscape is overcrowded and the impact of traditional marketing methods is reducing tremendously.  Furthermore, customers today prefer to make a well-informed purchase decision.

According to a study undertaken by Google and conducted by Media CT and Sterling Brands, 87 per cent of shoppers consult their mobile device for pre-shopping information, 79 per cent do so while shopping, and 35 per cent do so post-shopping, as a result of something that occurred during the shopping experience. That’s where augmented reality comes in. As shoppers turn to a blend of online, mobile, and offline shopping for their convenience, brands and retailers have to think of new and innovative ways in which they can capture customer attention.

 

Augmented reality overcomes the challenge of merging physical experiences with digital content. This merger can create a rich user experience for customers as they shop for the perfect product. It’s creative, innovative, and it works!

What according to you are the key benefits of using Augmented Reality solutions?

First, it enhances the shopper experience. Through AR powered apps, retailers can enhance the shopping experience in multiple ways. For instance, if a shopper sees a sweater they love the look of, but isn't fond of the colour, they can point their own smartphone at the product, and then display and watch the sweater change colours. At the same time, options to view customer reviews and additional product details — and to even buy the sweater online, rather than there in the store, in the colour and size of their choice — can pop-up alongside the display. This allows the store to grab that purchase even when the stock in the store might not have matched the consumer’s desired choice.

Secondly, it has an extended reach, without actually extending the footprint. Online furniture shopping is continuously increasing in India. One challenge with this channel of sale is the lack of a real size feel of the product. With AR, this challenge is converted into strength with the user being able to visualise a life size sofa in the exact location he wants to install it by just pointing his Smartphone onto the location through usage of an AR-based marker. This helps retailers extend the retailers reach, with an enhanced user experience without necessarily adding more physical stores.

Lastly, it helps in engaging shoppers. Digital marketing professionals create engaging/ fun themed AR kiosks/ events in malls, public places to engage customers with the brand. Typically, the brand will have a retail store in the nearby vicinity.

Tell us about a few interesting trends we can look forward to in AR?

A few interesting trends to look out for would be ‘Virtual Mirrors in Fashion and accessories’, ‘Effective inter-usage of AR with Virtual Mirrors’, and ‘Affordable Virtual Mirror headsets that can normalise Virtual Reality’.

What are the solutions that Bosch provides with respect to augmented reality for eCommerce?

We architected AR/ VR Development Platform based on experiences from 30 Prototypes, 6 Customer Pilots and 3 Products in the last 5 years. In AR Powered eCommerce Solutions, we developed cross-platform AR modules which help consumers visualise virtual objects (like furniture items/ consumer appliances) in their real home. This helps the consumers to perfectly check the fitment of the product before making a purchase. The design is made such that these components can be easily integrated into the legacy eCommerce apps.

What do you see as the challenges and opportunities for augmented reality in e-commerce?

Some challenges would be: Creating a high class user experience with rich texture based 3D virtual content that matches the real world experience; creating light weight 3D models/ images without compromising the user experience; smarter business models that leverage and complement the added value offered by AR, and existing smart-phone based retail apps that need to be seamlessly integrated with the AR app to offer greater convenience to the users could be some of the challenges.

As for opportunities, there are a lot many.

a)  It utilises the smartphone volumes to reach out to millions of users and provide an immersive experience;

b)  Thanks to the Smartphone based gaming consumers, which have enabled smartphones with higher GPU capability, this becomes a greater enabler for AR/VR solutions to be deployed on these devices;

c)  Enriching the shopping experience; and

d)  Ability to communicate a lot of metadata & product information in a customer centric way to engage informed users.

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