With the proliferation of social networks and mobile applications, consumers are becoming more discerning and demanding. They require additional information to help them to make informed shopping decisions, and a personalized retail experience is more necessary than ever before.

Today, the offline retail industry has been significantly challenged by e-commerce. Offline retailers have been trying a variety of adaptive strategies, but still face considerable obstacles. As for “e-commerce”, although online retail offers both convenience and fast retail platforms, a key drawback is that customers can only see their purchased products upon receiving them. It is not easy to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers using traditional digital technologies. In our “permanently online, permanently connected” world, to place an order, consumers need access to information such as reviews, price comparisons and more. They have their own expectations regarding consumerism, and are looking forward to continued changes and improvements.

A new retail solution, therefore, is needed. One that not only optimizes the shopping experience (both online and offline), but also provides a forward-looking consumer-centric vision for the market. In other words, a solution that provides consumers with a broad variety of digital content, new and interactive shopping experiences, and integrated service. Such a new retail solution shall harness the potential of AR technology.

1. Online Retail: AR Offers an In-Store Shopping Experience from the Comfort of Home

When it comes to online consumerism, because product information is overwhelmingly displayed two-dimensionally, it’s impossible to truly gauge products’ size, material, and details. The unfortunate result is that, all too often, when expecting product A, it is instead an “almost” product B that is received.

With the benefit of AR, however, it becomes possible for online retail to bring the in-store shopping experience directly into consumers’ homes. Entire categories of products (such as beauty, apparel, footwear, home and others) can be fully-displayed by AR devices (mobile phone apps, wearable AR devices) through the use of 3-D reconstruction. Users can experience the full range and selection of in-store products in the comfort of their own homes, able even to zoom in and out, and view them from different angles.

Quite a few brands, among them Sephora and Anthropologies, are already introducing AR technology that allow their customers to try on clothes using a mobile app, and sample a variety of styles, sizes and colors. Thanks to augmented reality, customers can observe and interact with products from all angles. As technologies continue to improve, it will even become possible for products to incorporate tactile and olfactory experiential elements.

IKEA has already established itself as one of the main players in the application of AR technology. Through ARKit’s AR technology, consumers can experience and interact with virtual furnishings via their mobile phones, and purchase furniture directly through the application. Through the IKEA app, consumers can see how IKEA products would look, and match their existing furniture and home furnishings. This type of solution fully and conveniently integrates both in-store shopping and online shopping.

2. Offline Retail: AR Makes the Consumer an Expert at In-Store Shopping

Offline retailers increasingly faced with competition from e-commerce are, understandably, looking for new solutions. They are also paying a lot more attention to catering to customers’ essential needs: touching, trying on, matching, comparing, socializing with friends, and simply enjoying more fully the on-site shopping experience. With the power of AR technology, offline retail is redefining and reaffirming its inherent commercial value.

Luckily for offline retailers, AR technology also has the capacity to extend and enhance the display of in-store merchandise. Whether for holiday marketing materials, product labeling, or shelf signage, AR technology can visually provide highly dynamic and time-sensitive explanatory guidance, paving the way for a much more engaging shopping experience.

In addition, with a wealth of product information provided by AR technology, consumers can easily and conveniently make purchasing decisions while selecting products (such as clothes, footwear, bags, and accessories), with the additional benefit of being able to read and contribute real-time reviews. AR technology also enables consumers to visualize paired articles of clothing and accessories, by overlaying products they have with others in the store. No longer will consumers need to fret over whether that red handbag they selected will match that black sweater of theirs, or those fancy color shoes with the khaki dress at home. What’s more, consumers can use AR technology to view other consumers’ feedback and reviews, and so on.

3. Experience Upgrade: AR Offers an Integrated, Interactive Shopping Experience

An integrated shopping experience is the trend that young generation are closely following. Rather than having shopping be just about fulfilling basic needs, AR instead can seamlessly incorporate leisure and socializing elements, thereby totally transforming the act of shopping into a fun and interactive experience, by blending in all-channel media content, social activities with friends, live-streaming, customized in-store sales, and commercial area games.

While shopping, consumers typically love to share information and ask for advice. For online shopping, key influencers play an important role. Live-streaming, for example, has been wildly popular in just the past two years. If AR technology can successfully overlay a live room onto a real room, users could very well be able to interact “face-to-face” with the influencer. In this way, consumers would feel more engaged, and gain a deeper understanding of the product by experiencing immersive product-related  storytelling. They could also share photos or screenshots captured by their AR devices to the product’s page, or to their own social media platform of choice.

As for in-store shopping, imagine wearing AR glasses, and seeing a vivid and customized shopping guide, based entirely on your own brand-specific shopping history and habits. Being offered customize services and recommendations, tailored to your own preferences. Not to mention, the possibility of treasure hunt-style and other AR-enhanced games in or near stores, for a fully-customized cross-platform overall shopping “journey.” The popularity of “Pokémon Go” proves that if there are ample enticements and incentives, consumers are highly willing to visit stores that promise immersive experiences.

Whether online retail, offline retail, or even integrated shopping, Augmented Reality is set to empower the retail industry by delivering to consumers excitingly new and interactive experiences. More importantly, it holds the promise of generating comprehensive insights into consumer behavior, leading to an ever-improving and more customized shopping experience. With the nascent ability to not only better understand and analyze how consumers interact with products within a 3-D space, the retail industry as a whole stands to vastly benefit from the adoption of AR technologies.