How In-Store Experiences can Benefit from Augmented Reality
eCommerce is on the rise, bringing in $517B in U.S. sales in 2018. Still, a considerable 85% of retail sales happen in-store. Consumers are on the hunt for information, and physical product interactions currently lead the pack in experience value. For many digital shoppers, visualization of a product is tricky, especially when attempting to gauge color, texture, size, and fit. In-store product experiences solve these problems with one caveat – the physical product must actually be in stock. Of course guaranteeing inventory would require unlimited space and planning, an unrealistic undertaking for most retailers. The concept of “endless aisles” was introduced to solve this very issue – ensuring that all product options, variations, and alternatives are seemingly available in-store via external inventory. Savvy retailers recognize that just because something isn’t currently on the shelves doesn’t mean that a customer won’t buy it. The only problem? The in-store experience is lacking valuable product information without the physical product available in-store. This is where 3D and augmented reality (AR) come into play, enabling a simple solution to this complex problem. Endless aisle kiosks act as a digital extension to in-store inventory, while 3D and AR product experiences supplement the physical information that digital experiences are currently missing. Sound complicated? Let’s start from the beginning.
In-store shopping experiences are physically immersive. They are immediate, with answers to questions via tangible products and information given to you by real human sales associates. By interacting with a physical product, shoppers can move from estimating the product to actually knowing it. They can be certain they’re getting the right item by trying different sizes, colors, textures, and alternatives in person. Additionally, shoppers can touch and hold the products while evaluating them, reducing the likelihood of a misunderstanding.
But what if the product isn’t there?
Retailers with brick-and-mortar stores are challenged with balancing adequate inventory needs to meet consumer demands across category- and product-level variations while avoiding overbuying from both a budget and space perspective. It would be short of a miracle for almost any retailer to perfectly predict and cater to the needs and expectations of every potential in-store customer.
Meanwhile, digital technology has conditioned today’s shopper to expect more, including the idea of unlimited inventory. A recent survey found that 17% of in-store shoppers would use their mobile device to make an immediate purchase at a competitor’s site if an item was out of stock in-store. Another 37% would buy that item from an online retailer when they got home. Finally 35% would go to an entirely different store to buy it. Just because a shopper has arrived in your store does not guarantee that they will stay. This is where endless aisle technology comes into play.
Endless Aisle to the Rescue
Endless aisle helps retailers capitalize on the purchase intent that brought a shopper into the store in the first place by effectively expanding their product catalog without having to take on more inventory. Endless aisle works in two ways, via drop shipping and kiosks. Both rely on external inventory partners, often 3rd party sellers, with available off-site inventory who will ship to the store or the shopper directly without any additional branding. This requires an accurate inventory tracking system, as well as educated sales personnel who understand the value of enabling and promoting this solution for shoppers. In-store kiosk systems allow shoppers to search for items and variations on their own, similar to an e-commerce experience. The shopper assumes the item is coming directly from the retailer (whether from another retail location or warehouse) while the retailer purchases the item from the external seller on behalf of the shopper. This creates a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for the retailer, as long as the seller and the inventory is reliable.
Mind the Gap
With endless aisle, the retailer reduces the risk of losing the customer to a competitor, but this does not substitute for the physical product experience the shopper may have been anticipating by entering the store. Enter 3D and augmented reality commerce experiences. To date, we have mostly discussed 3D and AR through the lens of online product pages, but these experiences are available to anyone with a mobile phone and access to the internet, and they are as valuable in-store as they are out. Let’s walk through an example:
You have arrived at a furniture store to purchase a bar cabinet. You find one you like, but there are different treatments of the wood, only one of which is available in-store. You think you like the walnut veneer. Via endless aisle, the sales associate confirms that while the walnut veneer is not in-store, they do have it in stock elsewhere, and it can be shipped directly to your home. But is the walnut veneer the right one? Fortunately, the sales associate informs you that you can see the model with the walnut veneer, as well as the other treatments in 3D on your phone. From there, you can tap to AR to place the cabinet in front of you to walk around it and explore it up close. Furthermore, if you’re not entirely sure, you can view a similar model in walnut and place it next to the original one in the store via AR to gauge the difference in size and style. Still not entirely convinced? No problem. When you get home, you can place the cabinet in your space via the AR-enabled retailer’s site the same way you did in the store. Not only does it fit in your space, the walnut is perfect. You can purchase online from there.
This is a realistic consumer journey problem solved only very recently with the advent of web-based 3D and AR technology. Retailers who implement 3D and AR product experiences on their websites are enabling them for shoppers everywhere. Shoppers who find their way to those retail sites are more informed and more likely to purchase from anywhere. In the end, it’s all about the experience and building trust with the customer. Endless aisle and 3D/AR commerce are two sides of the same solution, giving consumers more information to make an informed buying decision at their convenience.