While participating in different business meetups, I regularly hear pitches from startups. In most cases, I know within seconds whether they will succeed. How? Because apart from the passion, nerves, and bluster, they are able to communicate something crucial — that their startup enables people to do something quicker or cheaper. It’s that simple.
E-commerce has thrived largely because it follows these two golden rules. Consumers save time because they no longer have to visit physical stores to buy. And the fiercely competitive nature of online retailing has driven prices down.
How to Solve the Problems of E-Commerce and Retail With Augmented Reality
In the future, an arsenal of technologies is set to address some of the weaknesses of e-commerce. Driverless cars and drones will cut delivery times, satiating consumers’ desire for near-instantaneous fulfillment. The wider use of cryptocurrencies and streamlined digital wallets will also speed up and simplify purchasing.
I believe that the next breakthrough to have a profound impact on e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailing is augmented reality. It’s going to solve some of the biggest issues in the sector.
Here’s how it might have solved a dilemma for me recently. Not long ago, in the midst of a busy day, I took my son to buy football boots. We had to purchase the shoes quickly because he had an appointment with his tutor later in the afternoon. Annoyingly, we ended up spending much longer in the store than I hoped and he was late.
This was because the process of trying on football boots, or indeed any kind of footwear, is an archaic one that sucks up time and desperately needs to be rationalized. First, we had to wait before an assistant was free. Then we had to wait again while he spent time rooting around the stockroom for the boots we were interested in. My son, having tried on the boots, decided he wanted to look at others and the process was repeated. After countless trips to the store counter and enduring the process of trying on many pairs of boots, we finally made our choice.
Had that shop been using AR it could have been a different story. With this innovative technology that cleverly projects virtual items into the real world, the consumer can try on boots, in many different styles, and see how they will look virtually on their feet. They can try on hundreds of boots swiping left or right, Tinder-style, to check out the next pair — seeing an accurate representation of what they will look like.
Augmented reality can be used to gauge the size and width of the consumer’s feet. The assistant would know your size before you took your own shoe off. For products where exact sizing is inconsistent and dependent on the manufacturer, you’d immediately know whether an 8 or an 8.5 was better suited to you.
This system works well when using facial recognition software, which enables consumers to see their face with a product superimposed on it, in a seamless and highly accurate way. It is ideal for trying on accessories such as glasses and hats, and once again the customer can try on a huge number of items in a short time.
This does not mean the death of brick-and-mortar stores. The beauty of a technology like this is that it can work for physical retailers, who can use the store’s tablets or phones to enable their customers to try on the products virtually, as well as for e-commerce companies.
I am convinced too that augmented reality will not just save consumers’ time, it will save them money.
Returns are a massive issue for consumers and online retailers. In the US alone, Statista estimates return deliveries will cost $550 billion in 2020, 57% more than three years prior. While Invesp estimated that, in the UK, more than 30% of all online products are returned.
I strongly believe that augmented reality could reduce return rates for both brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce retailers as, thanks to AR, the customer is more likely to be happy with the style they have chosen and how it fits.
Fewer returns will benefit consumers. The cost of returns is factored into the actual selling price of items. If returns are lower, retailers can stop passing on this fee to the customer and reduce the overall cost. In this way, augmented reality could play a role in saving consumers money and may even bring down inflation.
Retail staff should welcome the technology, too. Not only will their job become easier and less stressful but they can also serve many more people and earn a higher commission.
The Advantages That Augmented Reality Brings to Customers and Retail
Yet, these innovations are only part of the story. Consumers will also be able to use AR to customize products so they are truly personal. With face augmented reality technology, they will be able to tweak the shape, design, and colors of eyewear, jewelry, and other items, and experiment with different looks.
While creating the perfect style, they could order a product tailor-made by the retailer, perhaps at some point via a 3D printer. Finally, customers will be able to create their own products, personalizing them to a level that would have been science fiction a few years ago.
In e-commerce, more and more online retailers will challenge real-world experiences by creating virtual product aisles. These could be projected onto a living-room wall, with consumers, potentially wearing AR glasses, reaching out to them using AR-driven hand-gesture technology and placing items in their virtual shopping baskets.
In the future when my son buys football boots we might complete the process so quickly that there would be time for us to have a kickabout in the park before we head off to see his tutor.Guest Post
About the Guest Author(s)
Alexei Sakolski is a CTO and co-founder of Banuba. He has considerable experience in software development and architecture and has worked for a nuclear plant and on a major Java project. His previous role was in algorithmic high-frequency trading (HFT). Alexei is also a co-author of numerous software patents.