It just became a whole lot easier to shop from your couch, and all because of augmented reality. Augmented reality differs from virtual reality in the sense that it does not create an entire virtual world, but rather combines virtual aspects on top of reality. AR is used today mainly in applications where computer-generated images, sounds, and/or videos are placed on top of real ones, therefore, augmenting how we view reality (e.g. Pokemon Go, Snapchat filters).
Today, the reach of AR goes way beyond creating games and is actually changing the game of how customers can shop online. While AR impacts multiple industries, everything from entertainment to sports games to medicine, I have dedicated this post specifically to the retail industry. Many companies are starting to adopt AR technology to enhance customer experiences, and I have listed below some of the new and noteworthy AR applications retail companies have released in the past year thanks to WSJ’s Nathan Olivarez-Giles video, Future Shopping.
The AR apps tested in the video and listed below are only available on Google Play. Why Google and not Apple? Because Google recently created a new technology called Tango, which is a computer sensing platform built specifically for AR that senses both motion and depth. Currently, Tango is only available on Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro phone, which was released last November. So not very convenient for the majority of smartphone owners…
Last summer I worked at Wayfair, the online e-commerce furniture store, and that’s when I became aware of how companies can implement AR to enhance how customers shop for products online. During my internship, I met people on the team dedicated to AR and VR, so I was excited when the company officially released WayfairView this past June. This mobile app allows you to hold up your phone in a room and place one of the 6 million options of furniture on site into a room to view how it would look next to its surroundings.
Currently, the images of furniture on this mobile application are only in 2-D, but select VR headsets can display 3-D rendering images of some products. This new app signifies how technologies can help improve the headache of buying furniture to match existing pieces in your home. And this is even more important for companies, like Wayfair, that only sell online without ways for customers to see or touch products in person before making a purchase. What’s interesting about WayfairView is that even if you do not have the new Lenova phone, you can still use a similar “View in Room” option on the official Wayfair app offered on Android and iPhone devices.
Now this AR technology isn’t entirely new. For example, IKEA also released an AR app back in 2013. The difference, however, is that IKEA’s app requires you to place its paper catalog in front of your phone, where you then hover over an image in the catalog to select it. Wayfair’s app allows you to place any image on its site into a room, which is just another example of how AR technology has progressed in the past few years.
If Wayfair has an AR app, then it’s no surprise that a retail giant like Amazon is going to have one as well. Amazon’s AR app, Amazon Product Preview, allows you to select any TV in the application to preview how it will look in your room. This app uses sensors to detect the depth of your room to show you how the TV will look to size relative to other objects in the room. Once a TV is selected, you also have the option to read more about the product, save a picture of what the TV will look like, or purchase the TV right away. Unlike Wayfair, Amazon Product Preview is currently only available on Google Play and designed for Tango.
Another AR app that Olivarez-Giles discusses in the video is Gap’s Dressing Room, which just came out in January. Dressing Room allows you to place virtual mannequins in a room to dress with selected outfits, essentially allowing you to try on clothes without having to go into a store or dressing room. How does it work? It allows you to select your body type, which currently only has 5 options, and then select clothes to place on the virtual mannequin. You can also change the size of the clothing to see how it might look. What I think is interesting is that once the virtual mannequin is placed in the room, you can walk closer to it with your phone to see close-up details of the design and fabric. From the app, you can then directly purchase the clothing. Could this type of AR application change the entire way customers try on clothes and remove the need for brick and mortar stores? Possibly, but again, this application is only available on the new Lenova phone with Tango technology, which limits the number of users.
4. Lowe’s Home Improvement
Similar to WayfairVison, Lowe’s AR application Lowe’s Vision allows you to place furniture, appliances, flooring, and wall trim in your home, displaying its relative size and fit. One main difference is that Lowe’s Vision is built specifically for Google’s Tango technology, so it is only available on Google Play, whereas Wayfair has other options to be used on multiple devices. What’s interesting is that Lowe’s also just started selling the new Lenovo phones with Tango technology.
Many other companies are beginning to see the benefits of AR apps due to Google’s Tango, but other retail companies have used augmented reality in the past, such as IKEA, which I mentioned briefly above. Some other large retailers who have experienced with augmented reality include Converse, De Beers, American Apparel. The difference with these is that they either no longer exist or require something in front of your phone, like a catalog, picture, or sign in a store, to prompt the augmented reality. These applications are just not as technologically advanced as the applications released in the past year, but it still signifies how they have tried to adopt AR into the shopping experience.
I think AR technology can greatly impact and change the way customers shop, even if the computer generated images do not look entirely realistic yet. While only a few large retail companies have started investing in new AR apps, I suspect that many will soon follow in the near future. These apps also have a long way to go, such as making the products even more life-like and being offered on more devices, but I think we will see these apps continue to improve in the next year. As time progresses, I’m also looking forward to see what other companies come out with AR apps, and if companies like Apple will start competing with Google Tango and developing AR technology for iPhones.