Digital technologies are transforming the retail shopping experience. However, retailers are oftentimes not sure how to implement digital technology into their marketing mix. As a result, many retailers end up developing fragmented solutions focused on the isolated in-store experience.
For example, in 2016, Lowe’s Home Improvement attempted to use new digital technologies to create the in-store robot sales associate, “LoweBot.” Their narrow solution questioned “how can we help customers easily find products?” rather than thinking of the big ￼￼￼picture, “how can we help customers design the room of their dreams?”
How, then, can retail marketers rethink the shopping experience in holistic ways? One way to do this is through the use of augmented reality (AR).
With augmented reality, you can focus less on the physical store, and more on how the store can help customers achieve their project goals.
Here, the old adage saying, “you’re not selling a drill, you’re selling a hole,” no longer applies. The saying should be: “You’re not selling a drill or a hole. You’re selling a better room.”
The shopping experience is no longer about an in-store experience. Rather, the focus is now about helping the customer reach their project goals. Augmented reality can achieve this because it allows marketers to help customers in their immediate environment by virtue of being a spatial technology that integrates digital content with the physical world.
In this article, Maggie Hitchings, Reilly Roberts, Maddie Reid, and Joachim Scholz discuss how augmented reality can create a solution-centric retail environment by focusing on the customer’s project and allowing for serendipity and assurance.
How Lowe’s Home Improvement Reinvented the Shopping Exerperience
Lowe’s updated their use of digital technology ￼by introducing an augmented reality app using Tango-enabled smartphones. The app has two functions that allow Lowe’s to focus on providing a complete solution for its customers.
The first part of the app, “Lowe’s Vision,” enables users to measure and place virtual products into their home to visualize how the room will look. This allows users to thoroughly plan their projects and create a shopping list before entering the store to purchase the products.
The second part of the app, known as “Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation,” uses a mixed reality interface to guide users through the store and find products on their shopping lists.
“[The app] allows our associates to spend more time advising on home improvement projects,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “With Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation, we’ve created a more seamless experience using breakthrough technology so customers can save time shopping and focus more on their project.”
It’s not just Lowe’s that got this right – you can do it too!
By incorporating augmented reality, you can focus on the customer’s project and become more solution-oriented.
Because the Lowe’s app satisfies basic needs like navigation to products, sales associates can focus more attention on consulting customers with project ideas. Repurposing the sales associate allows for more exciting and personal interactions. Ultimately, this builds meaningful and long-lasting relationships between the customer and the brand.
￼How You Can Use AR Marketing to Transform the Shopping Experience
If you want to use augmented reality to transform your audience’s shopping experience, there are four things you need to keep in mind:
1. Allow customers to plan and execute projects
2. Allow for serendipity
3. Provide quality assurance
4. Provide social assurance
To remember this, we came up with the acronym, PSA2.
1) Allow Customers to Plan and Execute Projects
￼Augmented reality helps your consumers overcome the imagination gap when they have an idea for a project. For example, in “Lowe’s Vision,” the in-home component allows users to envision their dream room. This is one of the most important features to incorporate in your AR app to enhance the shopping experience.
This streamlined focus on getting the customer from the planning stage to execution stage has been successful in other marketing campaigns such as IKEA and TopShop. IKEA followed a similar model as Lowe’s by giving consumers the capability to measure and visualize products in their homes. TopShop created dressing rooms with augmented reality so users could virtually try on products.
In both cases, customers were given the tools and information needed to follow through with their projects. This eases the buying experience, further enticing consumers to confidently follow through with a purchase decision.
Remember, creating a solution-oriented shopping experience is what makes augmented reality so valuable for your business.
2) Allow for Serendipity ￼￼￼
￼While the “Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation” app helps customers plan and navigate with ease, the trade off is that customers no longer have a reason to wander through the store. To change this, Lowe’s could use augmented reality to incentivize people to explore places not on their shopping list.
In other words, you should think about how to incorporate aspects of serendipity into your AR app.
One way to do this is through gamification. The app could provide different paths for customers to follow throughout the store, where they could “win” tokens and earn discounts. If the user could hold up their smartphone and see discounts light up in different areas of the store, they would be more inclined to navigate and explore different departments.
Another way your app could increase serendipity and trigger impulse decisions is to show virtual products that align with products on your customer’s shopping list.
For example, if your customer is picking up a table they already tried at home, your app could alert them of a coordinating lamp. Using AR, the user would hold up their smartphone to the table and see the suggested lamp sitting on top. As a result, this would urge them to visit the lighting section.
￼￼3) Quality Assurance
Augmented reality can help you transform an in-store shopping experience to one that prioritizes consumers’ projects by providing them with quality assurance.
Consumers value reviews more than almost anything else. According to data presented by Bright Local, customers actively seek out product and business reviews. In fact, 67% of consumers read as many as six reviews before they trust a business and 85% read as many as ten.
When using the app, users could hold their smartphone in front of a product and see reviews pop up right next to it. Why force your customers to find assurance elsewhere when this can be streamlined through your app?
Having reviews directly integrated into the shopping experience saves consumers time and allows them to focus on the project at hand.
4) Social Assurance
While quality assurance is important, social assurance can be an even more powerful tool.
Imagine this: you are shopping for a new shirt with a friend. Your friend says, “that shirt looks good on you!” This positive feedback ￼￼from your friend is a critical component to your final purchase decision because people naturally care about what others think of them.
To recreate the experience of shopping with a friend in your AR app, we suggest using live-streaming and chat functions.
Live-streaming and chat functions allow you to build a supportive shopping community.
The live-streaming aspect of the app could be similar to ModiFace. This platform allows makeup artists to live stream themselves putting on virtual makeup through Facebook Live and YouTube Live. More importantly, they receive comments from their online community.
In the Lowe’s example, consumers could use the app to live-stream themselves virtually testing out products in their homes. At the same time, they could get feedback from their social network. Receiving a “like” or positive comment on live-streams is similar to a friend saying “that shirt looks good on you.”
Affirmation is ￼￼￼extremely influential in your consumer’s shopping experience and instills confidence in their purchase decision.
Additionally, the live-stream feature can be directed at the sales associate. Sales associates could provide advice about products before the consumer even sets foot in the store. This would transform the role of a sales associate. They are no longer employees who simply help consumers find products in the store; rather, they are experts who help consumers achieve their goals.
The digital age is new and exciting. However, many retail marketers do not know how to use emerging technologies to their advantage.
Here’s the big takeaway: augmented reality can help you create a holistic shopping experience for your customer.
By incorporating augmented reality into your marketing mix, you can build a solution-centric retail shopping environment that prioritizes your consumers’ project goals and dreams.
To get the most out of your AR app, make sure to include features that allow consumers to plan and execute their projects, provide serendipity in the store, and include social and quality assurance.
Augmented reality allows businesses to transform the meaning of shopping. However, you must ensure you are creating a complete experience for your consumer. With a well developed AR app, in-store shopping becomes less about the physical products and more about how you can turn your consumers dreams into a reality.
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