We recently welcomed a selection of speakers and guests from some of the UK’s leading retailers to our West Midlands office. The occasion? Retail Rocks – our gathering of retail aficionados to share, discuss and question how to rock in the world of retail.
If you came along; it was lovely to have you and we hope the day gave you plenty of food for thought. If you didn’t make it this time around – keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment.
A high street on life support?
One of the key topics we covered was the waning status of the UK (and indeed the global) high street as a hub for retail. With internet access and smartphone ownership established as the norm, consumers are armed with the ability to scour the globe for price comparisons, saving themselves the time and potential extra cost of buying items in store.
On top of that, regardless of your feelings towards that pair of trainers, the majority of retail spending is ‘discretionary’ – it’s not vital. And we’re increasingly presented with the freedom to purchase products and return them free of charge; a ‘try-before-you-buy’ model that has been championed by many, including clothing giants ASOS. This surge of returns can undermine profits, and in a sector with traditionally low net margins, that’s far from ideal.
Naturally, global competition and frugality pose major headaches for retailers. However, as our panel discussed, this doesn’t spell the end for the UK high street. Instead, it presents a need to engage your customers with your products, challenge those who are visiting and comparing prices online, and improve the shopping experience as a whole.
Mark Holland, the Mobile Team Lead for Cooper Parry IT, may just have an answer. He spoke in detail about Augmented Reality’s rising influence in retail – a technology that has started to make significant headway in disrupting the industry, shaking off its cobwebs and breathing new life into what a trip to the shops can really entail.
Transforming your customer’s reality
Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive experience that superimposes digital content into the real world; letting the user see, hear, and in some examples, even smell the object in front of them. But is it just the latest craze in fun and entertainment – far detached from the goals of businesses? Well no, not at all.
In retail, it makes a massive difference for customers who are trying to experience and understand your product. They can visualise it in real time, see how it looks in their home, see how it fits on their body. And this prior contact with a product will help to put the brakes on what some have dubbed the ‘returns tsunami’ caused by ‘try-before-you-buy’ services.
It differentiates you from your competitors, it makes you look like a forward-thinking company, and it gives your business a newfound edge. But it’s not all about image – there are statistics a-plenty that back up AR’s impact on sales:
• 40% of consumers are likely to spend more on a product if they can experience it through Augmented Reality.
• 61% of shoppers prefer to shop at stores that offer Augmented Reality, over ones that don’t.
• 71% of shoppers would shop at a retailer more often if they offered Augmented Reality.
Now those numbers aren’t to be sniffed at. And they all suggest one thing: AR has a big role to play in shaking up the industry.
How has it been utilised so far?
Mark and the Cooper Parry IT team have already created AR apps for a number of clients, including an app for a door handle company which was on show at the event. This app allows customers to visualise the handle in their home; improving the experience and significantly reducing returns. They’ve also worked with multiple high-profile sports clubs looking to take the social engagement with their brand to the next level.
The value these apps have brought to the clients’ businesses has been huge. And outside of Cooper Parry’s work, there are plenty of other examples showcasing AR’s flexibility:
IKEA Place is perhaps the best example and explanation of how AR works – allowing customers to visualise the furniture in their house, checking it fits and looks great before the hassle of ‘to me, to you’.
Audi have introduced AR to their showrooms, with an avatar called Simone talking you through the different elements of their cars and giving you a real feel for what you’re actually getting.
L’Oréal and Estée Lauder both offer AR-enabled ways of dying your hair different colours and testing out a huge array of make-up products at the click of a button. And in the clothing world we’ve seen multiple examples of AR technology that lets customers ‘wear’ the clothes, sizing them dynamically and tailoring them to their taste.
The list of examples goes on, and as AR becomes increasingly accessible, it will only grow to include more and more smaller retailers – those who are looking to close the information gap at the point of a sale and bring huge boosts to their customer experience.