“At some point, we’re going to look back and think, how did we not have a digital layer on the physical world,” Greg Jones, director of VR and AR at Google, said at Shoptalk Europe earlier this month.
The role of augmented reality (AR) is set to be transformative, he argued, and that’s particularly the case when it’s applied to retail.
Those words were echoed in an interview with Apple CEO, Tim Cook,published by Vogue magazine around the same time, in which he said he believes AR will impact everything from runway shows to shopping. “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website,” he commented.
The fact is both Apple and Google are facilitating this happening. While AR has been around for many years, 2017 will be marked as the beginning of mass consumer uptake, thanks to the smartphone integration we’re starting to see.
The introduction of Apple’s ARkit, a developer platform for augmented reality, and the subsequent launch of iOS 11, which hosts it, has paved the way on iPhones and iPads. Google’s ARcore meanwhile, brings the same to Android.
Consumer adoption follows the fact users have long been playing in this space – they know what AR is by the filters they put on their faces on Snapchat, or the characters they’ve chased around the streets using Pokémon Go.
The difference now, is having this utility integrated in a multitude of other apps on their phones; making it a second nature experience to add that digital layer to everything they are doing.
The forecast is for 900 million AR-enabled smartphones by the end of 2018, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital. And in that sort of world, there’s only going to be increased expectation from consumers, Jones noted.
In fact, research from Digital Bridge shows that 69% of consumers now expect retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months. “It’s amazing how fast consumers adopt things and then expect them to be everywhere,” Jones explained. “They just had the Pokémon Go experience and now they already expect this in stores.”
Further insights from Google show 34% of users say they would use AR while shopping, and 61% say they would prefer to shop stores that offer AR. “AR is set to reconnect physical and digital retail,” Jones added.
Already we’re seeing multiple retailers and brands taking note. Ikea and Anthropologie were some of the first partners for Apple’s launch, using ARkit to add features to their apps whereby you can see furniture placed in your own respective room to get a real feel for what it will look like in real life. Others in the home space, including Wayfair and Houzz, have also jumped on board.
Google has already worked with the likes of Pottery Barn and Gap through its earlier Tango AR platform, and is now said to be doing so with all manner of brands for ARcore.
Utility is at the heart of the majority of the apps thus far – enabling things like the placement of furniture, as highlighted. That functional perspective follows earlier success for AR in the beauty industry. There have been more than 20 million downloads of L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius app, for instance, which uses AR to let users virtually try-on beauty products on their phones. Others brands including Sephora, Charlotte Tilbury and Rimmel have followed suit.
Jones also sees application for a basic information layer, especially when it enables trust and transparency – providing content on the spot for where a product has come from, for instance, which would be applicable to everything from broad consumer purchases to luxury goods. He also sees relevance in adding a layer of emotion through digital – using AR as an opportunity to reinforce brand value through experiential and immersive storytelling, he explained.
Burberry has taken a particularly playful and interactive approach with ARkit, for instance, allowing users of its iOS app to overlay digital illustrations by artists Danny Sangra on their own pictures through the camera lens, and then share them on social media.
And Cook also sees potential for fashion week shows themselves. “If you think about a runway show in the fashion world, that’s a great application of AR because some of these, you want to see the dress all the way around, you do not want to just see the front,” he explained.
The Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion recently took that one step further when they paired AR start-up, HoloMe, with young British fashion brand, RIXO London. The result saw aholographic version of the catwalk show for users to watch at home using their smartphones.
“Augmented reality is going to change the way that the fashion industry creates, showcases and retails its products. The year ahead will see an explosion in opportunities for this immersive technology to totally redefine what we understand as fashion today,” said Matt Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency.