Why AR Will Stick This Time

by Katherine Jacoby

Augmented reality has had its fair share of spotlight moments: from the explosion of Pokémon Go, to wearables from Google and Snap, to social media filters that add glitter to dog ears to our environment. However, despite these high-profile use cases, AR has struggled to take hold on a larger scale.

There are several reasons behind AR’s lack of staying power in the market, including the technology’s early visual quality and a lack of affordable entry points (Google Glass retailed at $1,500 back in 2014). However, perhaps the largest inhibitor was a classic marketing issue; it didn’t solve a consumer need.

While applications such as Pokémon Go and an endless supply of social media face filters are great for entertainment, AR has typically lacked an application that solves a pain point that consumers encounter regularly. However, as technology has improved and consumer buying habits have shifted, particularly over the last year, the doors have opened for AR to become a regular and valued tool among consumers.

Previous predictions of an AR boom have fallen short, but with the evolving state of the market and demands for better experiences, we see three key arguments for why AR will finally have staying power.

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1. The Technology Is Better

If you were to ask a marketer with 20 years of experience what their first reaction to 3D is, you might get a cringe. The visual fidelity of 3D and augmented reality has come a long way in the last 5 years, let alone in the last 10. Whereas early versions produced grainy, pixelated, or clunky images that were heavy and slow to load, current platforms produce photorealistic models that can be deployed across a wide variety of devices and systems.

Today’s 3D models can be mistaken for high res product photos, and are often used in place of product photography as they are cheaper to produce, maintain, and update. Using 3D in place of traditional photography or videography saves significant resources while allowing brands to effectively showcase a wide variety of features and options. Perhaps most importantly, these high-fidelity models are true representations of the products and far more accurate than a photoshopped color overlaid on an image.

The opportunities for AR to expand beyond fun and games are reliant on the ability to bring a real-world feel to the experience. A cartoon feel is fine for capturing Pokémon, but when business and purchase decisions are being made, users require a more concrete form of validation. The technology behind AR is now bringing products to life as they truly appear, creating better value for brands showcasing products and confidence in purchase for consumers.

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2. Access & Affordability Have Improved

Large-scale adoption is impossible if the tools are not available at scale. While AR headsets have been a part of the conversation for a number of years, demand was limited to a niche market and specific buying pool. But with evolving technology and the explosion of personal devices, not only have the ways to distribute AR expanded, but the majority of consumers now carry a device in their pocket that is equipped with native AR capabilities. Specialized headsets, top-of-the-line phones, or extra apps are no longer a necessity for a consumer to engage with a wide variety of augmented reality experiences.

For an industry that has long been deemed “recession prone”, the emergence of easily accessible AR tools without an additional hefty cost opens the door for mass adoption. Some businesses are even looking beyond the smartphone to the next anticipated evolution – a world where phones are not the primary digital tool. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is betting on AR in a big way, unveiling their partnership with Ray-Ban to bring the AR-enabled Ray-Ban Stories to market.

During the launch, Zuckerberg was quoted as saying “Ray-Ban Stories are an important step toward a future when phones are no longer a central part of our lives, and you won’t have to choose between interacting with a device or interacting with the world around you.”

This combination of improved technology and increased access has benefits for both consumers and businesses. Business applications for AR have grown to include advertising, education, training, and commerce experiences. While custom-built solutions are still a common option, semi-custom and out-of-the-box solutions are emerging for brands who are looking for a plug-and-play model for their brand experience.

These new players in the market shorten the lead time for a quality experience in addition to decreasing the capital needed to effectively deploy AR. For brands looking to compete in an increasingly noisy market, the ability to provide immersive and memorable experiences across a wide variety of customer touchpoints comes as a huge advantage.

35 percent of consumers surveyed by eMarketer had experienced AR content for a furniture or car visualization, while 37 percent had leveraged a tool for visual search. It is estimated that by 2023, 33 percent of US users will engage with AR on at least a monthly basis. While AR may be the cool thing now, brands should keep in mind that in the near future, AR features may be a point of parity among the competition.

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3. Scalable Use Cases

The number of innovative applications for AR by businesses has been growing since the mid-2000s, but the level of effort and resources needed to execute often limited them to specific campaigns, live events, or long-term installations. That is no longer the case, and the opportunities to deliver real value to a wider audience at scale are being leveraged by brands across industries.

For commerce in particular, AR allows for the URL and IRL experience to exist in a more cohesive manner. eCommerce has long struggled with elevated return rates and lower consumer confidence as compared to in-store shopping, largely driven by a customer’s inability to directly interact with the product prior to purchase.

Through the combination of 3D configuration and augmented reality, buyers have the ability to thoroughly view and evaluate all product options and features from anywhere they have service. The days of ordering a couch and praying it fits or hoping that the color doesn’t clash can be gone with high fidelity product renderings. In fact, recent studies indicate that purchases involving AR have 25 percent fewer returns.

These improved experiences are not limited to eCommerce either; in-store shopping can also be enhanced through AR. QR codes throughout the store can be activated to provide more information on products, highlight benefits, or even demonstrate how much assembly an item may require. In cases where not all options are available on the shelf or visible on the sales floor, deploying AR experiences provides shoppers with the option to see and compare products or product options.

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The If and When

Experts across industries have demonstrated excitement and interest in the next evolution of augmented reality, and the benefits that can be realized by both consumers and businesses. The question is no longer if AR will be a valuable tool in the market, but when it will become a necessity to stay competitive.

Katherine Jacoby is Marketing Manager at ATLATL, which provides product visualization tools for AR. 

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