How empowering consumers to visualize product customizations can drive sales

Many customers today won’t buy a product unless customization is an option. They love being able to tailor products to their own style and preferences. This is especially true with big purchases (like a new car) or identity products (like a pair of Nike running shoes). When people can’t see all the customization options before purchasing, they might buy nothing at all, for fear of buyer’s remorse.

This desire for customization creates several problems for marketers. Maybe there’s not enough space in a showroom to display all the potential variations. Perhaps the brand hasn’t released the product yet, so customers who pre-order don’t get to see the actual item. Consequently, there are a handful of problems.

Augmented reality is the perfect solution.

The Tesla dilemma

In late 2017, Tesla will release its Model 3, the luxury car brand’s most affordable model yet. Those interested can reserve the car for $1,000. Almost 400,000 people reserved theirs by April 2016, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Tesla will sell 400,000 cars. If for any reason a potential buyer loses interest, Tesla refunds the full $1,000.

Tesla should utilize augmented reality to enable customization.
Tesla’s Model 3 will be released in 2017.

Tesla significantly extends the buying phase through these pre-orders, giving consumers more time to second guess their decision.

Ideally, Tesla would find a way for buyers to see their fancy new car in the driveway, literally. But they can’t do any of that, if the car won’t hit showrooms for another year?

How augmented reality helps the auto industry

The solution is augmented reality (AR), which enhances the physical environment by placing digital layers over it.

Tesla could use this technology to prevent potential buyers from requesting their money back. If Tesla created an AR campaign, customers could get a glimpse of what their final purchase – customized to their individual liking – would look like. The chances of them losing interest in the car could decrease significantly.

Tesla wouldn’t be the only car brand utilizing AR.

In 2015, Lexus launched an augmented reality campaign that revolutionized the car buying experience. With the launch of an app called Snipp, potential buyers can customize an unreleased car.

By changing its color, rims and body style, customers can design a car to their liking.

The app, which is available for phones and tablets, scans and recognizes a patch on the ground. Then it displays the vehicle on the screen.

Here’s how it works.


How augmented reality adds value

AR allows buyers to visualize a new product that isn’t directly in front of them. The ability to see rather than hear about a product actually benefits the majority of people, as 65 percent of us are visual learners.

In the past, a visual buyer might have just left a dealership because they weren’t satisfied with the options in the showroom. Now, augmented reality maximizes the experience of the buyer and allows customers to be designers.

Reach customers outside the showroom

The campaign is a game changer for the car industry, but marketers can learn from its flaws as well.

AR campaigns need a wide reach to be successful. Lexus’ AR campaign is great, but it needs to move beyond the showroom.

Lexus's augmented reality app enables customization.

As we explain in more depth in our article on augmented reality, marketers should “entangle” digital AR content with the physical and social contexts of consumers’ lives to craft valuable AR experiences.

That means reaching customers in their own homes.

If Lexus had AR packages (similar to the Tesla example above) delivered to interested potential buyers, the campaign could have reached audiences at home.

Target the right customers

Customers using your AR experience should fall into two categories. First, they should already be interested in the product. For car brands, that means people interested in the company already. It could include existing customers who are due for a new car, and would be more enticed to upgrade if they could see a new model in their driveway.

Second, the brand should target customers who won’t misuse the AR experience.

Letting customers use the app outside of the showroom is crucial, but also comes with some risks. Make sure customers don’t hijack the experience to portray your brand in a bad light.

For example, something like graffiti in the background could negatively impact the campaign. Or bystanders in the background could interfere with the message. If you think your product is controversial or susceptible to abuse, it’s best to control the AR experience in the showroom. Lexus did that.

Lexus' AR app enabled customization for buyers in the showroom.
Lexus’ AR app limited the experience to the showroom.

When the marketer controls the location, they lower the risks substantially.

However, Lexus wouldn’t have to worry about malevolent customers or unflattering contexts. The brand should look for ways to deliver the AR campaign outside the showroom.

Augmented reality is the key to customization

Customization is essential to making big purchases.

Using AR for shopping — whether it’s for a car, a piece of furniture, clothes or even arranging a garden — enables customization for the buyer. For the marketer, it helps eliminate the need to provide a physical display or mock-­up. Augmented reality can ultimately save both parties time and effort.

To become part of this exciting movement, share this post with other marketing professionals. To learn more about the exciting opportunities and trends in augmented reality, subscribe to for upcoming articles on the latest and greatest AR campaigns.

The author thanks Haley Loreen and Lindsay Kent for their contributions to an earlier version of this post.

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