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Credit by Dmitry Ogievich

It’s no secret that retailers are struggling

In the UK Debenhams has become the latest in a line of giants to go into administration. It is imperative that retailers manage to engage younger consumers (16-24 years), if they wish to avoid being left on the ever-growing high-street scrap heap. Augmented reality (AR) is an area of innovation that can yield exceptional results for retailers hoping to successfully appeal to Millennials and Generation Z, with its easy availability on mobile, instant engagement, and the effect of virality.

Having grown up in the mobile age, young consumers have a strong preference for mobile and respond positively to visual, easy-to-perceive information. They spend hours a day using multiple social networks and they love to share their experiences with friends and family as quickly as possible. They are also much more averse to long-term financial commitments than previous generations and most Millennials expect to try out or try on a product before deciding to pay for it.

Retailers need to target where Millennials consume most of their content and the majority of AR experiences are released on mobile. Camera-based apps powered with augmented reality offer high level of engagement, availability on mobile, and a consumer-centred concept that allows retailers to keep up with their buying decision mindset by providing them with the experiences that are not just useful and problem-solving, but way more fun too. Millennials are famed for sharing their lives with the world, so brands can take advantage by broadcasting their message through the social media accounts of their own consumers. All it takes is to create an AR feature worth using and an AR experience worth sharing.

However, using AR only for the sake of using AR won’t result in sales growth. It’s important to consider the entire customer shopping journey and think of how technology can empower the most crucial customer touchpoints, i.e. adding a virtual ‘try on’ experience to the website, app or in-store where the first or most important interaction with the brand happens. With millennials who shop, communicate and live online – retailers must focus their attention on the touchpoints that matter to this particular consumer type and think how technology can empower and enrich their shopping experience.

AR enables retailers’ customers to engage with their products without having to physically enter a shop. There is a surging popularity of AR applications that help users see how furniture will look in their homes, such as IKEA Place or Amazon’s AR View. Fashion retailers have also been quick to adopt AR with Gap’s Dressing Room, which helps users to find specific items and shows which suits them best. Burberry, took a slightly different approach, using augmented reality to let users digitally redecorate their surroundings with Burberry-inspired drawings and share the resulting picture with their friends on social media.

But AR isn’t just for online retailers, it can also help drive footfall to bricks & mortar stores. The advantage in-store shopping has over online is the ability to see, feel and experience the product. Brands can utilise AR to visualise products right on consumers, enhancing their in-store experience.

L’Oréal Paris has been making waves with their in-store virtual makeover tool, enabling users to test drive various products from lipstick to hair color before making the decision to buy. The feature works with still images or ‘live’ footage, making it all the more appealing to those who want to appreciate their new look in motion. Zara also recently launched an augmented reality store experience with models demonstrating the latest Zara looks as you point your phone at certain spots within the store.

Put all of this on top of inventive AR-assisted Snapchat ad campaigns, Facebook AR ads, and Instagram face filters, and it becomes obvious why AR has become one of the hottest marketing trends for retailers. It allows brands to win over a very demanding and elusive group of consumers by creating an entirely new way for them to interact, shop and discover products they’ll love.

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