The Augmented Reality Era of Shopping

The Augmented Reality Era of Shopping


Zara is making shopping fun again. The well-known fashion chain owned by the world’s largest clothing retailer, Inditex, began introducing augmented reality (AR) displays in its stores in early April, in an effort to lure millennials.

If ever you walk past a seemingly empty window display at Zara, grab your phone and download the Zara AR app from either iTunes or Google Play. Point your phone at the window or any of the in-store podiums, and models Lea Julian and Fran Summers “are brought to life for 7-12 second sequences,” showing off the new Zara Studio SS18 collection. They can pose, move, and even talk, making for a peculiar, yet engaging new shopping experience. You can click through and buy the clothes – either online, or right there in the store, without having to dig for the right size. The app also features a tool that enables customers to share photos of the holographic experience on social media.

This technical push comes from a need for physical stores to fight back against online retailers for the attention of shoppers in their twenties and early thirties. However, Zara, with its ability to get styles from the catwalk to stores quickly, has always been able to keep millennials coming back to its brick-and-mortar shops. But that doesn’t mean the chain is lax about taking advantage of technology to create unique shopping experiences.

Zara is not the first to combine AR and shopping. Multiple retailers and marketers, such as Ikea, have been able to take advantage of Apple and Google’s decision to incorporate AR technology into their smartphones, allowing developers to create AR experiences. Overstock.com and Ikea’s AR app (Ikea Place) allow users to see how certain pieces of furniture look in their home.

Although convenient, there are aspects of the shopping experience that are lost during the online process. Primarily, many of the sensory elements, such as feeling the item and seeing how it works, or knowing how it will fit, are missing. This may either leave the buyer uncertain, or disappointed when a product arrives and it’s not what they expected. All this guesswork by customers can lead to dissatisfaction and losses for the company, in the form of higher return rates. According to the National Retail Federation, “merchandise returns in the US represent nearly $260 billion of the retail market”.

Augmented reality solves some of these issues by integrating digital information with the physical environment, live and in real time. While shopping online, a consumer has to imagine what an item would look like in their home, or on their person. AR technology transforms imagination into reality and helps customers see how the product will look, so they can purchase with more certainty. It also makes it easier for customers to see various colour options and other modifications that may be available. For instance, when purchasing a couch, AR will allow you to click through the choices to see which shade of grey would best complement the colour of your living room wall. With Dutch paint giant AkzoNobel, it works the other way. The company’s AR app, Visualizer, allows the user to see what a room would look like in a variety of colours in real time without having to purchase a sample.

AR technology is shaping the future of online shopping and the in-store experience. In fact, 69% of consumers expect AR apps from their favourite stores in the next 6 months. The interaction with the product will not just help ease buyer uncertainty and drive profit but is also shaping up to be an overall fun and unique experience for customers.


Helen Jacob | Staff Writer

Photo credit: GQ Italia


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