This article is the latest in AR Insider’s editorial contributor program. Find out more or contact us to participate here. Authors’ opinions are their own.  

Augmented Reality Experiences Will Save Brick and Mortar Retail

by Tom Emrich

Image credit: Alexandre Godreau

Retail is changing and Augmented Reality(AR) is playing a critical role in its evolution.
Today’s consumers are shopping more and more online. According to eMarketer, US consumers will spend $586.92 billion online in 2019, representing more than 1 in every 10 dollars of total retail spending. By 2023, online spending will reach $969.70 billion.

The continued growth of online shopping, among other factors, has put physical retail locations at risk. According to analysts at UBS, if the rate of online shopping continues its trajectory nearly 75,000 retail locations will need to close by the year 2026. The “retailpocalypse”, as it is sometimes called, has already taken its toll with Barney’s and Forever 21 as recent examples.

At the same time, consumers are spending more money on experiences. A recent study found 76  percent of all consumers would rather spend their money on experiences than on material items. It is no surprise then that the travel and tourism sector continues to see strong growth above global GDP and “experiums”, or experience museums, like Museum of Ice Cream are seeing valuations of $200 million due to their success in the market.

According to the Harvard Business Review’s seminal piece “Welcome to the Experience Economy”, “an experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.”
It is in this memorable, emotional, connected experience that lies the keys for brick and mortar retail to not just survive but thrive. And Augmented Reality is already proving to help physical retail fight back.

Here are five ways Augmented Reality is bringing experience to the forefront in retail today.

1. The Store as an Attraction

Augmented Reality is turning everyday spaces into unique, timely must-see destinations — drawing crowds to experience, capture and share.

AT&T Stadium recently featured 80ft holograms of the Dallas Cowboys which could be viewed both inside and outside the stadium through Samsung 5G-enabled phones.

Source: Nexus Studios / Scape

Microsoft used projection mapping to bring its NYC flagship windows to life, causing crowds to stop and watch.

Zara stopped shoppers passing by their stores in their tracks with empty store windows which encouraged shoppers to download the Zara app to watch an Augmented Reality fashion show. Shoppers pointed the Zara app at the window and select in-store displays to see models Léa Julian and Fran Summers brought to life for seven- to 12-second sequences.

And Snapchat’s Landmarkers, while currently limited to select locations around the world, draw crowds back to places they may have seen countless times before to see them come alive to puke rainbows and turn into pizza slices.

2. The Store as an Experience

Augmented Reality is transforming the in-store experience by bringing merchandising and signage to life and featuring AR installations that can only be seen by walking through the door.
Selfridges and Apple are great examples of retailers who have combined AR with art to create large-scale in-store installations. Selfridges teamed up with Jon Emmony who installed a five-story Augmented Reality “Digital Falls” in the atrium of the department store. While Apple worked with artist Nick Cave to activate an in-store art installation, “Amass”, which consumers experienced through the Apple Store app.

As part of its “Forever the Future” campaign, Adidas used WebAR to add a digital layer to select stores which featured a large Augmented Reality centerpiece and brought signs and merchandising areas to life using image targets.

And during the theatrical release of Black Panther, Walmart used AR to turn its aisles into the world of Wakanda where shoppers could explore while checking out toys from the movie.

3. The Store as a Game

Augmented Reality is turning the shopping experience into gameplay, entertaining shoppers while guiding them within the store to familiarize them with product and create a funnel to purchase.
LEGO’s in-store WebAR activation for its Hidden Side playsets challenged consumers to capture virtual ghosts around the store. This activation gave consumers a first taste of LEGO’s new AR-enabled product line — creating a relevant and engaging first touchpoint to inspire sales.

Adidas wrapped streetcars in Toronto, Canada with “Boost My Ride” messaging to promote its newest line of sneakers, Ultraboost 19. Once passengers step on board, ads within the streetcar invite them to scan a QR code to turn their transit pass into a scratch card using WebAR, which they then tapped to “scratch” in order to reveal if they won a prize. Winners would then hop off the tram at adidas’ flagship store in Toronto to claim their prize.

In the UK, Adidas used Instagram filters to create three in-store AR installations which were revealed at the star-studded “Future of Sport” event at adidas’ high-tech new flagship store on Oxford Street. One of the installations, Uniforia AR game, asked shoppers to take part in a kick challenge and share their scores on their Instagram Stories.

4. Product Packaging as Interactive Experiences

Augmented Reality is giving product packaging the ability to tell stories, becoming an interactive and entertaining part of the buying experience.

General Mills made the cereal boxes of its new cereal brand Fillows interactive with WebAR. Using image targets, Fillows cereal boxes became a series of interactive puzzles including a challenging Pac-Man style breakfast game which consumers could play right on the box.

Tactic Studios has worked with a number of winemakers to bring the bottle to life using Augmented Reality to let the bottles tell a story. For 19 Crimes wine, AR wakes up the prisoners on each label to tell their stories of how they got there using the Living Wines app. And for Rabble Wines, AR was used to bring to life labels featuring a selection of historical woodblock print renditions depicting nature’s wrath from the Nuremberg Chronicle, which dates back to the 1400s.

And Starbucks launched a “HOLIYAY” filter on Instagram to bring their always anticipated Starbucks holiday cups to life. Each cup generates a new AR animation including floating holiday sayings and turning one cup into a holiday-themed snowglobe.

5. Spaces as Experiential Pop-ups

Augmented Reality is transforming any empty space into a retail experience, no inventory required.

Snapchat used AR to turn an empty shop in London into a pop-up for Lego Wear. Using the Snapchat app, shoppers walked around the empty space to view Lego Wear clothing on mannequins and interact with a DJ booth and arcade machine, all in Augmented Reality.

Havaianas’ “Step Into Summer” campaign turned a colorfully painted boardwalk in Venice Beach, Los Angeles created by Buff Monster into a shoppable experience. Users aimed their phone’s cameras at the mural’s patterns and Easter Eggs to shop related products to the themes they captured.

And Adidas US created a Snapchat Lens which unlocked a door in any space to reveal a hidden, secret showroom Snapchatters could explore.

Tom Emrich is VP of Product at 8th Wall. A version of this post originally appeared in Near Future of Retail.


Header image credit: Artificial Photography