How These Retailers Use Augmented Reality to Enhance the Customer Experience

Smart mirrors, augmented reality | Shopify Retail blog

Remember when augmented reality (AR) was a pie-in-the-sky idea? Even just a few years ago, AR caught our attention mostly due to its “cool factor.”

Now it’s becoming more of a reality, and forward-thinking retail brands are incorporating AR technology into the customer experience, both in-store and online.

Learn more: How to create a customer journey map

Store ownres are smart to adopt this retail technology: Almost 70% of consumers expect retailers to launch an AR app within the next six months. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of companies don’t use AR at all.

However, there are many retail brands at the forefront of harnessing the power of AR and how it can enhance the brand experience. To help inspire you, we're highlighting a variety of retailers using AR to empower their customers, create a more interactive shopping experience, and help their products stand out.

Enhancing the In-Store Experience

Retailers across a number of industries have integrated AR technology into the in-store experience. It’s a smart move, especially considering 61% of consumers prefer stores that offer AR experiences — and 40% of them would pay more for your product if they have the chance to experience it through AR.

Lacoste, for example, created the LCST Lacoste AR mobile app that customers could use to virtually try on shoes. The app also created AR experiences with window displays, in-store signage, and promotional postcards.

With this technology, the apparel retailer aimed to engage a younger audience. The app promoted the LCST shoe model, “the urban-savvy younger brother of Lacoste.” And the investment paid off: More than 30,000 users engaged with 3D products while using the app. They quite literally put the shopping experience in the customers’ hands.

American Apparel is another clothing brand that has also equipped customers with mobile app-driven experiences. They encouraged engagement with in-store signage and displays similar to the Lacoste example.

Essentially, a shopper would open the app and scan a picture of signage. The app would then pull up product details, including customer reviews, color variants, and pricing.

Another retailer instead incorporated AR into their in-store mirrors. Cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury took AR out of customers’ hands and onto the “magic mirror” on the wall. They partnered with augmented retail solutions and software provider Holition to install AR-enabled mirrors in their store.

Charlotte Tilbury Westfield London Magic Mirror from Holition on Vimeo.

Customers would visit the store and sit in front of the mirror. The mirror would then use AR to scan the image of their face. Shoppers would then see their face with ten of the brand’s iconic looks in under a minute — without physically wearing any makeup.

Apparel brands have also used AR mirrors to let customers try products on more conveniently. Timberland, for example, had a virtual fitting room created with Kinect technology. They turned this fitting room into one of the main window displays, which was a strategic move to drive more foot traffic.

Shoppers would stand in front of a camera and see a virtual version of themselves on a large screen. They could then choose different products to try on without even having to step foot in the store, let alone search for their size and go through the fitting room experience.

Topshop is another apparel brand that used Kinect to create virtual fitting rooms. They partnered with AR Door to create this experience for customers in their Moscow store.

One unexpected brand that has introduced AR to the in-store experience is Toys “R” Us. They worked with PlayFusion to create a “digital playground” through the Play Chaser app. The app isn’t geared towards the shoppers who convert — it’s targeted towards the end user: kids.

With the app downloaded on a mobile device, children can unlock AR-enabled activities. The mascot Geoffrey even comes to life, bringing the brand back into the experience.

Despite the retailer’s financial woes, their AR initiative seems to be working. The app has more than 100,000 Google Play downloads and a 4-star rating.

Lowe’s also uses AR paired with geolocation technology for their mobile app-powered in-store experience. The In-Store Navigation app, what they claim to be “the first retail application of indoor mapping using augmented reality.”

Using Google Tango AR technology, Lowe’s in-house product innovation lab created an app that makes the physical shopping experience easier and faster. Customers can create shopping lists in the app, which will then guide them through the store using the quickest route possible.

This isn’t their first foray into AR, either. Lowe’s Measured app gives users instant measurements based off images from the device’s camera. This at-home AR use is an especially strategic tactic for home goods-related brands: More than half of homeowners don’t proceed with a home-improvement project because they can’t imagine what products will look like in their home.

Bringing the In-Store Experience to Consumers’ Homes

AR has also proven an effective way to bring the in-store experience to life in a virtual sense. Rather than customers visiting your store, AR allows them to experience your products and services right in their homes.

Like Lowe’s, home and lifestyle brand Magnolia Market created an app that allows customers to see how their products will look in their homes. They partnered with the AR team at Shopify to incorporate Apple’s ARKit technology into their app.

Introducing this technology has enabled the brand to extend their reach, which is especially valuable considering they have a single brick-and-mortar store in Waco, Texas.

“Not everyone is able to visit us in person, but it was still important to us that the finer details of the in-store experience come through for those shopping online and on-the-go,” said Stone Crandall, digital experience manager at Magnolia. “With this technology, users can see our products up-close to examine the intricacies that make them special and unique.”

Read more about Magnolia Market and how AR tech is changing consumer perceptions >

Anthropologie has also used ARKit, partnering with CVLT to capture detailed, 3D images of their furniture line. They created an app that gave shoppers detailed views of furniture in different fabrics, colors, and shapes, as well as from different angles. The app was so detailed that it even gave customers peeks into what the furniture would look like with different lighting and shadows.

Another ARKit creation, IKEA Place, functions in much the same way.

Home goods aren’t the only try-at-home AR experiences. Gap also plans to bring the fitting rooms home with its DressingRoom by Gap app. And Converse has already done so with its Sampler mobile app, which lets shoppers virtually try shoes on at home, easily sharing the pictures to get purchase validation from friends.

The cosmetics and beauty sector is also perfect for this AR execution. L’Oréal Paris’s MakeupGenius app has been downloaded on Google Play more than a million times. With it, shoppers can virtually put makeup on images of their face. Like in real life, users can blend or mix and match different products to create their desired cosmetic look.

Sephora is also entering the arena of AR-powered cosmetic experiences. It functions a little differently than L’Oréal’s — users must first upload an image of a selfie to which they can apply makeup. They’re aiming to simplify the purchase process and minimize the number of steps users must take to buy.

Incorporating Augmented Reality Into Your Product

Some brands have gone as far as to incorporate AR into the actual product, enhancing not only the shopping experience but the overall brand experience too.

For example, Adidas launched a line of sneakers that unlocked an AR for customers at home. After buying the sneakers, customers would take the shoe home and hold it up to their computer’s webcam so it could read the embedded code on the tongue. Customers would then find themselves in a virtual world which they could navigate through using their sneaker as a controller.

This isn’t Adidas’ first foray into AR either.. They’ve also incorporated it into their marketing campaigns and T-shirt design reveals.

An unlikely AR contender, BIC appealed to its younger customers with its BIC Kids DrawyBook. Children would color on paper, and then their drawings would come to life on a tablet through AR.

Incorporating AR into your product may require more capital due to the research and development and investment in stock. It may be a good idea to test the waters with a smaller AR initiative to make sure it resonates with your target market.

Standing Out and Building Brand Awareness

Some retailers have taken a more out-of-the-box approach to AR, using the technology to build buzz and brand awareness.

Outdoor gear brand Moosejaw introduced the technology for customers to use at home, in conjunction with their printed catalogs. Their main goal was to delight existing customers with their mobile app Sweaty & Wet. As you might imagine, the app was rather controversial: It allowed customers to scan the catalog images and see an X-ray image of models in their undergarments.

Whether you find the move tasteful or not, the app drove a quarter of a million downloads and a 37% increase in sales.

Fashion brand RIXO London also gave customers an at-home experience with AR. Considering that runway shows aren’t accessible to the general population, RIXO London brought the runway show to customers’ homes.

Perhaps one of the most creative examples of AR in retail is Airwalk’s “invisible” pop-up shop. With geolocation and AR, Airwalk created a virtual pop-up shop to promote the limited-edition relaunch of the Airwalk Jim. Shoppers would download the AR app through which they would learn the location of the pop-up.

The Airwalk Invisible Pop Up Store from GoldRun on Vimeo.

In addition to providing consumers a unique and fun shopping experience, the pop-up resulted in $5 million in earned media, and their ecommerce store had its busiest weekend yet.

Which retail brands have you seen incorporate AR into their customer experiences? Which tactics would you like to try for your store?

More High-Tech Inspiration

AR is becoming more of a mainstay piece of technology for retailers, as you can see from many of the inspirational examples above.

Still craving high-tech inspiration? Read more about how several retailers are using virtual reality to attract customers and keep them.