Nicholas Carroll
Nicholas Carroll, Category Director - Retail Insights, has a particular flare for the grocery industry but analyses and writes in-depth reports on a range of UK and European retail markets.

Augmented reality (AR) has been around for some time, with Pokemon Go a high profile success story in 2016, but the launch of the latest mobile operating system iOS 11 in September 2017 and its integration of AR is set to take the technology mainstream. Google is also looking to integrate AR more closely into its Android operating system while Amazon launched AR view in early November, with the new feature available through the existing Amazon mobile app for iPhone users.

The integration of AR, by both Apple and Google, into smartphone operating systems is an important step for AR technology. While early AR-driven devices, such as Google Glass, may have suffered from a high entry cost, the fact that this technology will now be baked into modern smartphones democratises access by placing it at the fingertips of millions of consumers. It does seem the time for AR to truly delivery on its potential.

AR has serious benefits for online retailing

Online retailing continues to grow rapidly and gather more share of the overall retail market. However, one of its major detractors has always been the inability to see products before buying them. For certain categories, AR has the ability to remove this barrier.

In the past year, Apple has worked closely with retailers to show the promise of AR, particularly to those trading online. Earlier this year, Apple and Ikea announced a partnership to introduce AR to the Ikea app and Amazon has now followed its footsteps, becoming the second high profile retailer to incorporate AR into the shopping experience.

AR view allows customers to see products in real world situations by showing a digital version of the product through the smartphone itself. Launching with thousands of products across a range of categories, Amazon’s integration of AR is straightforward to use and certainly gives a far better sense of how a product will look in a real world environment than consumers have been accustomed to with traditional online shopping.

AR has the potential to reduce hesitancies when buying furniture online

Furniture is an obvious example of a category that could benefit from AR. How a product fits into existing room layouts, be it through size, shape or colour, is incredibly important from a customer point of view and indeed, Mintel’s Furniture Retailing UK 2017 Report shows that 61% of furniture buyers feel it is important to view furniture physically before buying online.

Moreover, furniture buyers are already interested in using new technology to plan room layout, with almost half agreeing they would like to use VR to do so. With Amazon keen to take a greater share of the furniture market and launching own-brand furniture in mid-November 2017, AR is a promising way to reduce barriers to furniture purchasing online.

Break on through to the other side

While Ikea and Amazon have focused on using AR to visualise products for sale online in the home, we have seen further examples of how AR can be used to augment the in-store experience.

Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn announced in July 2017 an in-store AR trial, with customers able to scan the packaging of 35 different products to give them further details such as where ingredients are sourced and which allergens are in the product, as well as suggestions of further products to buy to create recipes.

Meanwhile, in the US, Toys R Us launched a new app called Play Chaser, designed to create a more immersive in-store experience. Using the app whilst travelling round the aisles allows children and adults to unlock fun games and experiences, such as virtual basketball, in different areas of the store.

Finally, in October, Saks Fifth Avenue partnered with Mastercard, leading wearable tech company ODG, and Qualcomm to give shoppers a glimpse into the potential future for retail and AR. Using smart glasses, customers could navigate the store and instantly receive detailed information on products they looked at, including further product recommendations. Customers wishing to buy a product could checkout instantly with Mastercard’s Masterpass, which uses voice, facial and fingerprint recognition to authenticate purchases.

On Tuesday 21 November, Nick Carroll, Senior Retail Analyst at Mintel, will take part in the seminar “Envisaging the retailer of the future: keeping up with trends and technology” at Food Matters Live. He will discuss how retailers can engage with tech-savvy, time-poor customers in new and exciting ways, from augmented reality to voice activated technology.
Food Matters Live – Tuesday 21st November, 11:00 – 12:30, Room 1