Augmented reality in retail at the border: between shopping and payments

November 2018
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In order to keep pace with the innovative environment that retailers are operating in, one must always leave room for improvements, or at least to be aware that at some point, another attractive technology or feature will appear, ready to be exploited by shoppers. Until recently, virtual reality has been making headlines as a new product aimed to streamline and further boost the shopping experience. It is still a great feature to explore, and while it was called the ‘future of retail’, another technology popped up: augmented reality, which seems to be the best way of complementing reality with the virtual space and vice-versa.

Augmented reality (AR) layers virtual objects or holograms on top of the real surroundings. It basically brings a physical presence to online shopping, by superimposing a digital image on a user’s view of the real world and the information about the surrounding environment of a user becomes interactive. However, in the commerce industry, the success of this cutting edge technology hinges upon the consumers adoption of it. And it seems it has many chances to become one of the most successful shopping tools since 71% of shoppers would shop at a retailer more often if they offered augmented reality, while 40% would be willing to pay more for a product if they could experience it through augmented reality. This means that AR has the potential to significantly increase retailers’ revenues. At the same time, consumers have raised the bar and are now expecting retailers to bring out the best of what technology can offer to enhance their shopping experience.

Lego, Lacoste, Zara, IKEA, Converse, American Apparel, Charlotte Tilbury, L’Oreal, Adidas, are just some of the big retailers that have deployed AR in order to build up a new in-store reality. Online shoppers can merely guess how a piece of furniture may look in their living room, how an outfit may look on them, or how a particular makeup product may look on one’s face. For this reason, AR-powered apps have been gratefully embraced by the public and remarkably productive for retailers in terms of both brand awareness and revenue.

Customer experience is strongly related to the way people pay. But in the whole context delineated above, in which way is AR connected to payments? First, a retailer investing in AR is also a retailer that aims to deliver a seamless payment option and checkout process. As the CEO of ShopAdvisor Jeff Papows, said, “with the increasing shift in mobile commerce, it’s only a natural progression to incorporate augmented reality into experiences that shoppers have on their mobile devices during their path-to-purchase.” Visa and Mastercard have already addressed this aspect, and other companies, such as Paypal or Apple, have set ambitious goals of bringing the shopping process in one virtual place. Imagine having de product description, the price, the payment option and the return policy displayed in front of you via smart glasses. However, this type of service is actually a ‘look and buy’ payment system powered by augmented reality.

Therefore, we may now clearly state that AR is a milestone that has marked the retail industry on different levels and it is now ready to merge with other technologies, in order to compress the whole buying process, and even what’s behind it, more specifically the user authentication. Looking at the payments options in the retail sector now, what else can we augment to have loyal and happy consumers?