Can AR Bolster Retail Sales? - eMarketer

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Can AR Bolster Retail Sales?

Gap Inc. certainly hopes so—but it may take awhile

January 6, 2017

Google is partnering with Gap Inc. to let shoppers try on clothes “virtually“ at home via augmented reality. While the concept isn’t new, AR is becoming familiar enough to consumers that it can start to affect sales.

Product Categories for Which US Internet Users Would Like to Shop via Augmented Reality, Aug 2016 (% of respondents)

Powered by the Google Tango’s AR platform, The DressingRoom app is fairly straightforward. Shoppers first choose a Gap item they want to try on, select their size and then a 3-D virtual mannequin pops up modeling that item.

“Consumers, and particularly younger consumers, want an engaging experience when they shop,” said eMarketer analyst Yory Wurmser. “They like personalization, and they like self-service online features that answer some of the questions that in the past could only be answered by a sales associate or by handling the product. Any digital technology that makes the physical product more palpable, is easy to use and serves a common customer need can help drive online sales.”

There are kinks to work out. Even though the app is currently in beta (it’s expected to be released later this month) Tango’s AR platform has some limitations. For one, shoppers aren't seeing how the clothes look on themselves, but rather a virtual mannequin, which approximates their size. Instead of putting in their own measurements, shoppers choose from five body types, ranging from extra small to extra-large.

The app is also only available on a limited number of phones that support Google’s Tango AR technology. Specifically, Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro and Asus’ ZenFone AR. Google plans to have the technology implemented across all mobile devices, Bloomberg reported. But when that will happen is unknown.

Wurmser said there is a hardware challenge, since Tango ”requires some pretty heavy processing and hardware requirements, which few phones currently have. So it may take a while for the hardware to match the software capabilities.”

AR is definitely not a fad, but it may not be completely ready for primetime. Generally, the magic mirror technology employed by Ikea—in which a mirror displays a compliment to shoppers as they pass by—is relatively easy, as is tech that places an inanimate object in a real space.

”The stuff that Gap is trying is much harder,” Wurmser said. “If it looks clunky, it won't serve the consumer desire to understand the product better.”

US Internet Users Who Have Heard of vs. Tried Augmented Reality, July 2016 (% of respondents)

Nevertheless, shoppers are eager to experience the technology. And, they are far more aware of AR following the widespread use of Pokémon Go.

While this awareness is heavily skewed toward younger consumers, consumers of all ages are becoming accustomed to AR in retail. Sephora has had success with its augmented reality mirror that lets shoppers virtually try on makeup via its app. IKEA and Wayfair have made inroads, too, by implementing the technology to show shoppers how furniture can look in their home.

According to data from AYTM Market Research, nearly a third of US internet users surveyed were aware of AR.

A separate study by Interactions, a global retail event marketing company, found that six in 10 US internet users would shop for furniture via AR and almost as many would shop for clothing.

—Rimma Kats

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