Forget the AR/VR hype – it’s time to get the basics right

A recent report from Gartner suggested that 100 million consumers will be using augmented reality (AR) to shop both online and in-store as soon as next year. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, the reality is much different, particularly for smaller retailers.

Emerging technologies such as AR and virtual reality (VR) have both been on the retail industry’s agenda for a number of years now, but have still failed to make it into the mainstream. So, is there value in AR and VR beyond the hype?

Not a priority

We are starting to see a number of breakthroughs in AR from the big brands, such as IKEA’s virtual furniture catalogue and Asos using a tool to allow customers to see clothes on different body types, but to smaller retailers these technologies still remain a low priority for investment. Today’s retail landscape is increasingly competitive and smaller retailers are facing a wrath of different challenges. From the impact of Amazon to tough business rates, it is certainly not an easy time to be a retailer. Investing in cutting edge technology like AR is invariably expensive and comes with risks, two things small businesses are unlikely to have the appetite or budget for.

An organisation’s success is increasingly being determined by the digital experience it delivers and a poor experience can result in a customer abandoning their shopping cart and going directly to your rival. While it can be tempting to invest in cutting edge technology, retailers need to understand their customer pain points and evaluate which solutions will deliver the highest ROI. Unless VR and AR are solving a fundamental customer problem, widespread adoption simply isn’t going to happen.

Focus on what you need, not what you want

We frequently see retailers feeling compelled to rush into investing in the latest technology and the ‘next big thing’, but it is often more important to focus on getting the basics right first. It is completely counterproductive for a retailer to invest in emerging technologies if it is failing to get the basics of customer service right. If the new technology isn’t delivering a real shift in business growth or customer experience, then the business needs to question if it actually needs the technology at all.

It has also become increasingly necessary for businesses to address the gap between disruptors and incumbents. To do this, retailers need to shift their focus from trying to make monumental leaps in their offerings, which can take years and cost millions to roll out, and instead make speed and flexibility the priority.

Instead of looking at what you want, prioritise what you need.

Smaller improvements, bigger results

By focusing on small improvements to online performance that can be rolled out quickly, and the results measured straight away, businesses can make improvements. Start by asking yourself a few simple questions: how can you increase the number of page visits? Then, how can you increase the conversion rate? Then, how can you improve average order values? If you manage to increase each of these by a few percent, due to the compounding effect of multiplication, small increases in each online metric can make a big impact on revenue.

Technologies such as AR may work for some retailers and help to differentiate them, but for the majority, AR will not enhance their proposition.  Ask yourself do your customers really need it, does it make their life easier? All customers really want is an experience that is simple, quick and easy-to-use.

A recent study of 2,000 UK shoppers and 50 retail decision-makers conducted by Klarna and Censuswide, found that four out of five people have no interest in using AR or VR. The same study found that a fifth of retailers admit they are still struggling to get the basics right when it comes to digitisation.

It is evident that retailers are being attracted to the hype of technology customers have no interest in, whilst failing to get the fundamentals of customer experience right. This is simply unsustainable. By making small improvements and focusing on getting the basics right, you are much more likely to see a better return on investment.