Brick-and-mortar shopping took a significant hit during the pandemic. As the vaccine levels the playing field against COVID-19, consumers want to shop in stores again — but they’re coming back with some new expectations. As technology enhances e-commerce experiences, the lines between digital and tangible realities are blurring. Customers expect retailers to offer them the best of both worlds.

Augmented reality is one way retailers can meet the new demand for hybrid shopping experiences. Early adopters are already demonstrating the power of AR in the retail industry, and their success makes a clear argument for other companies to get on board. Here are some benefits of adopting AR technology and how it can boost your business in 2021 and beyond.

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1. Personalize Shopping Experiences 

AR can benefit retailers by offering their customers “try-before-you-buy” shopping experiences on their smartphones and computers. By giving people a way to visualize how a product may look in their home or on their body, businesses can help close the gap between consideration and purchasing. For instance, furniture retailer IKEA launched an AR app that allows customers to position couches, tables and more throughout their own home, helping them see how different pieces would fit into their space.

AR can also enhance in-store experiences. In one survey, 58% of shoppers said they used their smartphones to research product details. An app that allows your customer to use their phone camera to scan products for detailed descriptions, compare pricing, or even create wish lists is a great tool.

Whether in-store or online, this kind of shopping experience can offer a personalized touch while also helping customers avoid lengthy return processes or product dissatisfaction.

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2. Accommodate Post-Pandemic Preferences

AR can also help retailers connect with people who are still limited by the pandemic. Enhanced at-home shopping tools, such as the aforementioned product visualization, could give isolated shoppers a unique experience that diminishes the contrast between e-commerce and in-person shopping. This new practice can also accommodate other demographics who cannot visit stores, whether they’re geographically limited or physically disabled. Inclusive options can expand your reach and express important values.

AR can also improve contactless options at physical locations. Retailers that once relied on product sampling or testing, such as beauty and clothing brands, now use AR to allow customers to try their products via computer screens. A valued customer experience didn’t have to disappear due to pandemic safety protocols but was adapted using AR technology.

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3. Benefit Employees and Systems

In addition to keeping in-store staff safe through contact-free technology, AR can offer other benefits for employees. For instance, it is a fantastic onboarding tool that allows new hires to train from anywhere on their own smart devices while also increasing engagement and improving learning retention. That also applies to other forms of employee training, whether it’s updating your team on new safety measures or offering updated sales training.

AR can also increase efficiency in the workplace by providing tools and applications that make jobs easier, more accurate, and less time-consuming. Utilizing AR can help innovate systems and production, such as a product scanning application to streamline inventory and catalog items in a database.

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4. Increase Customer Engagement

Gamifying, or applying gaming concepts to nongaming activities, is a powerful tool in the retail sector. Tapping into people’s competitiveness and motivation is an easy way to entice buyers and trigger the brain’s reward centers. Loyalty and reward programs are excellent examples of gamifying at play, and AR only increases these opportunities.

Shopping apps that show progress bars, points, levels, challenges, or even virtual environments are all ways to increase customer engagement with your brand. An engaged customer is motivated, and they are the ones most likely to stick around and come back for more. These shoppers award retailers with impressive returns and marketing opportunities.

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5. Foster Brand Loyalty   

While tapping into a shopper’s competitiveness and motivation is one way to drive loyalty, another valuable strategy is showing compassion and care for their well-being. Mothers are a great example. These women serve important roles in their families and communities and are an essential market for retailers. However, 54% of moms feel stressed, and 40% make more shopping trips in a week than non-caregivers. AR can help retailers build experiences that are stress-free and make their lives a little easier. This can cultivate customers’ loyalty and give your brand a way to truly care for them.

Embracing AR in Retail 

Augmented reality is being adopted by businesses worldwide as consumers lean into digital experiences that overlap their tangible lives. In the constant battle for customer attention and retention, cultivating shopping experiences that can keep up with new technologies is paramount to adapting to the digital age.

Fortunately, AR isn’t just going to help your business survive the changes customers expect to see in their shopping experiences. Expect to see your business thrive as well.

April Miller is a senior writer at ReHack Magazine. She specializes in VR/AR, IoT, and business technology. See her work here and follow her @rehackmagazine.

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