Augmented Reality as Marketing Tech, Pt. 1: Tool or Toy?

Wearable technology is on the rise even as eCommerce companies are going retro with physical locations. To some, this might seem contradictory: as consumers grow more advanced in their taste in tech, shouldn’t their preferences shift from physical to virtual?

Interestingly, the two realities might find a peaceful coexistence, thanks to the growing emphasis on a fully integrated customer experience. Customers may soon be able to enjoy the conveniences of both in-store and online experiences at the same time, thanks to Augmented Reality (AR) technology.

AR technology, as a refresher, is the interaction of superimposed graphics (or other sense enhancements)over a real-time, real-world environment. Simply put, AR provides a layer of virtual reality on top of your physical reality.

It’s not a new concept, but AR tech as a marketing tool is a more recent development. Here are some examples:

1. IKEA’s Product Catalog App

The smart device app has become a huge contender in AR development. Easy distribution, low hardware costs, and the fact that people are practically glued to their phones make for near-endless opportunities. With this app, users can see how IKEA furniture will fit, look, and match with their current pieces. The app utilizes the device’s camera to project the digital furniture into the camera’s screen by scanning a paper catalog or selecting from the in-app version.

2. Topshop’s London Fashion Week Virtual Reality Experience

In Oxford Circus’s well-trafficked storefront, Topshop customers put on virtual reality headsets to watch London Fashion Week in real time. A 360-degree experience allowed users to look around the runway and watch the models walk during the show. A huge number of customers gathered outside the window to watch other customers experience the AR. (Meta.)

3. L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius App

Taking a cue from Shiseido’s in-store AR Makeup Mirrors, L’Oréal Paris created an app that allows customers to project makeup directly onto their faces via the front-facing camera. The app incorporated celeb-inspired styles and curated looks to let customers try a combination of products at once. They also added a social element, enabling customers to save the augmented selfies and share with their friends.

There are a few common trends in the AR marketing landscape. Many retailers use AR to help customers see how products bought online will translate in real life, which eases the uncertainty of buying something without actually seeing the item. Another more general theme is that the technological wizardry is fun. Brands using AR demonstrate a sense of play, as well as interest in enhancing the customer experience.

The novelty “fun factor” is both a selling point and a warning sign for Augmented Reality as a marketing tool. Shoppers are naturally drawn to AR technology displays and apps, but there’s no way to tell if that interest will last. Is AR tech really a tool that will help create a seamless, integrated customer journey? Or is it an expensive marketing gimmick that consumers will move on from?

The examples above are indicative of a great foray into the new technology, but marketers will need to take steps to make sure AR tech is used as a tool instead of a toy. Next week, we’ll cover the new developments in technology that bring both the “wow” factor while adding true value to the customer’s omnichannel experience.