Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming an increasingly popular way of engaging digital-savvy consumers. Whether offering virtual-try-on for clothing and cosmetics, or bringing a digital lens to the physical environment, AR is proving a key tool for merchants in-store and on mobile.

Augmented reality: The new digital phenomenon

Augmented Reality allows digital information to be layered onto images, usually via a smartphone camera or interactive mirror. It’s being used in a wide range of businesses, from hospitality and museums to gaming and automotive to add new layers of information and engagement.

Many tech experts believe that AR’s combination of real-world and virtual experiences will have a significant impact on brands in the future. Apple CEO Tim Cook claims that AR is the “next big thing” in technology.

According to a Gartner survey conducted in Europe, the US, Canada and China, 46% of retailers plan to deploy AR or Virtual Reality solutions to improve customer experience. Customers are well used to the tech, with 100 million consumers predicted to have used AR on apps or in-store by the end of 2020.

How are retailers using Augmented Reality as a customer tool?

AR has huge potential for playful interactions, but can be highly informative too. Natural beauty brand Lush is experimenting with AR at its packaging-free concept stores in Hong Kong and Milan as a way to give customers information on the production process and ingredients of each item, without the need to print them on wasteful packaging.

One of the most practical ways that brands are employing AR is to help customers virtually try on garments and beauty products. The beauty industry has been at the forefront of the technology, with major beauty groups such as L’Oreal and Estee Lauder enabling customers to try on different shades of foundation, lip colours and eye makeup styles through augmented mirrors and apps.

Armani Beauty has created a WeChat mini-programme for fans to try out new beauty looks via their mobile device, while MAC’s Shanghai Experience Centre uses augmented reality mirrors for virtual try-on in-store. The technology is also proving popular to try out eyewear, with Warby Parker and Dior introducing AR to the shopping experience.

Gucci fans can try out the latest designs of the brand’s popular Ace sneakers through its app. Meanwhile, Nike Fit offers not just the ability to see how different styles of footwear look, but how they fit. The app scans the user’s foot to work out which sizes and designs will fit best, and links directly to the webstore for rapid purchase.

How to get Augmented Reality right?

As 5G starts to roll out globally, the potential for AR will multiply, enabling the tech to be more widely used. Consumers are open to the technology, but its application needs to provide clear benefits of experience or information. In-store, AR can help customers to navigate stores, or try on clothes without the fuss of changing rooms. AR also has potential in enabling customers to visualise and pre-order or reserve new products at home, all from one app.