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As the visual branch of artificial intelligence, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are critical aspects of IT processes for the immediate future. The appeal of their cognitive visualizations is largely beyond dispute; organizations are experimenting with these technologies for animation and other applications hinging on their intuitive entertainment merit.
What has proved more difficult, however, is establishing consistent use cases in which VR and AR engender demonstrable business value. Traditionally these technologies have been relegated to industrial sectors for use cases in construction, manufacturing, vehicle management and other similar applications. Following the precedent solidified by the Internet of Things, early applications of AR were useful for reducing costs and improving efficiency in various industrial use cases before widely influencing commercial markets.
That’s all soon to change with AR’s impact on retail and its transformative effects on e-commerce, in particular. Its visual mechanisms are increasingly being adopted to increase opportunity for sales, upselling, and cross-selling for everything from furniture to clothing.
The difference in this aspect of its utility, as compared to that in the industrial sector, is crucial. In both industries, AR’s deployed to boost efficiency and reduce costs. In retail, however, it’s creating additional revenue streams and opportunities for monetization.
“It’s a curated shopping experience where instead of you just going in and you’re not that familiar with [clothing options], they can provide that additional guidance because they’re the experts for the clothing lines that are available,” UJET Director of Product Joerg Habermeier said about personal stylists using AR in e-commerce. “They maybe help you start shopping with this line of clothing, but after looking at a few of them together with AR, a stylist could kind of direct you to different styles and a clothing option that a shopper on their own would have taken an extra 20 minutes to figure out.”
The furniture industry provided one of the most immediate opportunities to generate business value from AR in retail. According to Habermeier, there are physical retail locations in which “you take a picture of your room, and [AR] displays chairs, beds, pictures, into the room.” In this use case AR accelerates the furniture selection process. What’s changing with this paradigm today is, much like with retail in general, these AR capabilities are being transferred to the world of e-commerce so that there’s “an extension from that to where you can do it in the comfort of your own home,” UJET CEO Anand Janefalkar mentioned.
The whole appeal of e-commerce is to bring the shopping experience into the home of the consumer. AR adds a dimension to that experience by enabling users to try out (or try on) various items they’re considering purchasing. Whereas the primary drawback of e-commerce is customers can’t test items to compare colors, styles, and effects of, for example, clothes prior to buying them, with AR they can. This capability is exemplified by the current retail trend in which personal stylists are available and, via the tandem of AR and video conferencing, “you can just flip through clothing options during a live conversation” Janefalkar said, enabling customers to virtually try on clothing.
These e-commerce applications of AR depend on a synthesis of mobile technologies. Some of the larger, publicly traded companies offering remote personal stylists utilize subscription based models relying on the cloud. Various video options including video calls or video conferencing provide the means of communicating, while consumers largely access AR via a mobile app on their smart phones at home, work, or anywhere else that’s convenient. “The stylist asks the consumer to go stand in front of a mirror and they overlay, with the Augmented Reality piece…in addition to the video call, [that] allows them to flip through these dresses to find out alright, this might be the right one for an outdoor event at this particular time,” Janefalkar revealed.
The sophisticated visualizations of AR through modern mobile technologies present a number of distinct possibilities for cross-selling and upselling that otherwise wouldn’t be available. The role of the personal stylist is pivotal to this process and is an added cost for organizations. However, the subject matter expertise of the stylists and their increasing familiarity with the preferences of the consumer aggrandizes the capability of AR to present additional items for purchase. In this case AR is the means of enabling “the personal stylist to do a nice upsell,” Habermeier added. “Great, you got me the right colored dress; let’s add this purse, let’s add this scarf to really round out the look and…they’ve got the sale of two additional items.” The possibilities for deploying AR in this capacity are virtually limitless. One can envision scenarios in which apps can automate the role of personal stylists so that consumers can facilitate these virtual shopping experiences even more independently.
Although applications of e-commerce in AR aren’t likely to eliminate shopping in traditional retail locations, they enable consumers to accomplish considerably more at home than they could shopping via traditional catalogs. The incorporation of extended reality to increase profits in retail is a stark example of what AR excels at—providing instantaneous accessibility to a range of possibilities that would otherwise take considerable amount of effort to access in the physical world. In retail, that accessibility involves “without having to step into a store, the end user can still get a sense of what they’ll look like with the selected items, and how it looks,” Habermeier said. It shouldn’t be long before organizations determine how to monetize this capacity of AR in other industries, too.
Jelani Harper is an editorial consultant servicing the information technology market, specializing in data-driven applications focused on semantic technologies, data governance and analytics.