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AR in retail: not just for adults

Augmented reality (AR) is playing an increasing role in the retail industry. It’s not new news that AR can bridge the gap between online and offline for retailers; from Ikea to Alibaba, eBay and Amazon, more and more retail giants are offering augmented and virtual reality experiences to customers.

In an industry that constantly needs to evolve and change to suit the rapidly changing needs of customers, it’s easy to dismiss AR as a fad. Yet it’s clearly something consumers want, and now expect; almost 70% of consumers expect retailers to launch an AR app within the next six months.

The performance of brick and mortar stores isn’t just down to price, it’s about the experience for customers. With Amazon hot on the heels of many online retailers, physical stores have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves by connecting with their customers through in-store experiences. Whether it’s across grocery, fashion or beauty, we’ve seen it implemented both in-store and online in a big way. 

This year alone, we’ve seen L'Oréal acquire ModiFace, a developer of AR beauty apps; and Nike reveal plans to test a mobile app that will recognise shoppers when they enter stores, let them scan for product availability in their area and check out and pay without waiting in line. Fashion retailers such as Zara and ASOS are also launching AR features, as well as beauty brands like Charlotte Tilbury, all designed to make the shopping experience easier for customers. 

One audience which shouldn’t be overlooked is children. Often grouped with their mothers or put in the ‘family’ bracket, kids have an unparalleled influence on shopping and purchase habits. If a retailer’s intention is to make the shopper experience more pleasant for customers, it makes sense to start with kids. If they’re happy, you can almost guarantee their parents will be too.

Toys ‘R’ Us made a bold attempt to create an AR game not dissimilar to Pokémon Go, which customers could only play in-store.  The app, called Play Chaser, worked by scanning signs scattered across each shop, unlocking content like mini-games and other play experiences. A great example of retailer using its stores to build connections with customers - although perhaps a little too late in the end.

We worked with Lidl Ireland on its latest campaign, which aims to make healthy eating fun and drive customer engagement through AR. The multichannel loyalty campaign promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables with The Goodness Gang, a collection of seven characters which includes Broccoli and Ben Banana.

The Goodness Gang GO app encourages users to collect virtual Goodness Gang characters, for which zap codes can be found in-store and online. Each has their own special fruit and vegetable themed game for players to earn points and then add accessories to their virtual garden such as a planted vegetable patch. 

The power of appealing to children in this way shouldn’t be underestimated. Kids should be treated by retailers and marketers as an influential and valuable audience, and efforts should be made so they enjoy the shopping experience too.

In fact, our research has found that many shoppers complete the weekly shop while their kids are at school. Others suggested that they avoid entire aisles of the supermarket to avoid “spirited discussions” with their children over which items to select in categories like soft drinks.

AR can provide a strategically welcome distraction for children and turn the weekly shop from a chore into a pleasure. By intertwining it with meaningful campaigns or messages such as how to encourage kids to eat more healthily, the benefits of AR can also extend far beyond simply profit, into true long-term behavioural change. 

AR is far from a fad, and retailers should look seriously at how it can improve the customer journey—for both adults and children alike.

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