Some of the country’s biggest retailers have started introducing bespoke versions of their stores to combat the crisis the retail industry is facing as consumers increasingly take their shopping online. While e-commerce is flourishing, traditional stores are bearing the brunt of their customers’ need for convenience and have to come with increasingly more innovative ways of luring people back into their stores.

One increasingly popular tool that holds benefits for both traditional and e-commerce retailers is augmented reality. Not to be confused with virtual reality, which utilises a VR headset to create the experience of operating in a reality that is different from their actual surroundings, augmented reality alters the user’s experience by adding to it in some visual way. AR does not require the use of a headset, and users can access augmented reality simply by using their smartphones.

2017’s runaway hit mobile game Pokémon Go, which shot up the charts again just a few weeks ago, is a popular way in which users access augmented reality via their smart devices. When pointing their mobile camera at the world around them, users see the pocket monsters on the screen as if they are really a part of the landscape, and players have the chance to catch the creatures in the game.

Similarly, augmented reality can be used to transform the shopping experience, whether it is in a traditional retail store or via an online retailer’s mobile platform. While most businesses occupy some kind of space in the online realm, precious few use the many tools this realm holds, especially when accessed with mobile phones.

For example, some retailers are getting rid of the traditional grocery shopping experience by letting users buy products in what looks to be a traditional store. However, instead of actually picking items off the shelf, users just need to point their device at a picture of the product, albeit in the traditional area where the product could usually be found. In this way, retailers can provide exactly as much as their customers need, cutting waste.

Another way in which AR can be used by online retailers is to create AR versions of the products they are selling to let users imagine these in their space. Furniture retailer IKEA has been offering its customers this functionality since 2014.

Businesses in the fashion and beauty industries are using AR to allow their customers the opportunity to try on clothes and makeup without having to go to a physical store. The Sephora Virtual Artist app lets users try on the brand’s makeup in augmented reality. Compared to the traditional way users would try on makeup in real life, this is a big step up. Customers can try on numerous looks without having to wash their face even once.

AR is becoming a very important tool for business in a world where people are living more and more of their lives online, and can be a way in which SMEs can stay ahead of the game and become a part of the online conversation.

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