How can AR and AI enhance the retail experience?

9th Jun 2017

Over the next 12 months, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) look set to make a huge explosion into the mainstream. We’ve already seen the launch of various smart virtual assistants, such as Alexa, Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, with four million people already having adopted a device in the UK. And Apple is due to join the voice-activated assistant space with its HomePod device that will be released towards the end of this year.

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation around how these developing technologies could change the way we shop.

With the rise of mobile shopping, the way we make purchases has been quickly evolving. As a result, what we expect from retailers and what we would like them to offer has also changed. Customers already believe that retailers should be investing in AR and AI to offer a more personalised and immersive shopping experience. Apadmi’s Future of Retail report found that more than a quarter (26%) of consumers would like retailers to implement AI tools in shopping apps, and almost a third of consumers (29%) believe retailers should invest more in augmented and virtual reality platforms.

With AR and AI quickly gathering huge amounts of interest in the retail sector, how could this technology revolutionise the shopping experience, and in turn, boost profits for retailers?

Try before you buy

Imagine this scenario: you’re on the hunt for a new sofa, so you visit a furniture store. You see a couple of styles that you really like, you’ve done the ‘sit down’ test to see if they’re comfy enough, and they’re within your price range – but you don’t know which one to choose as you’re having trouble imagining them in your lounge. Will it suit the rest of your décor? Will it even fit in the space you have available?

What if you could use a device, such as your smartphone, to actually envisage how the product would look in a real-life setting? You’d probably be more likely to buy it.

This is where AR has the potential to enable consumers to ‘try before they buy’ - without even leaving their homes. This would make for a much more immersive and interactive experience, allowing customers to really engage with a retailer’s products. Retailers would also be able to create more personalised customer journeys, where customers can actually see the product in action before committing to a purchase. When consumers know what to expect from a product, they are likely to complete the sale, therefore increasing profits.

Improving targeted sales

Retailers already collect a vast amount of data on their customers through store loyalty cards and online shopping history. This comes in handy when conducting targeted campaigns to suggest relevant products and services to loyal customers.

But as our shopping habits change, consumers are demanding a greater level of personalisation. This is where AI fits in perfectly, because it can help to analyse this information and then make targeted, personalised recommendations. If AI was incorporated into retail apps, these apps could remember previous purchases and suggest products and deals based on the owner’s browsing history. This would make the shopping experience much more tailored to each individual customer, making it possible to alert people to upcoming offers, sale items or purchases they might be interested in.

The idea is that this technology will be able to act more like a personal shopping assistant that can recognise the customer’s interests, preferences and buying habits. This gives retailers the ability to provide a better customer service, while also helping themselves to save time when it comes to analysing customer data, as elements of these processes can be automated.

More effective customer service

In the near future, it’s highly possible that customers will be able to walk into a store and ask an app on their phone whether the jacket or pair of jeans they saw online are in stock – rather than waiting in a queue to find this information out from a store employee. They’ll even be able to go on to a retailer’s website and connect with an online chatbot to quickly receive an answer to their question – maybe they want to know when the retailer will be receiving new stock for items in their size.

These intelligent chatbots could not only make the shopping experience more efficient, but they could also provide more effective customer service than a human assistant who would need training. They could answer customer queries, or reply to complaints or feedback, saving retailers a lot of time and overall labour costs. And this task automation process is something that is only going to grow over time.

It’s highly likely that AR and AI will play a significant role in technology development over the next few years, particularly given the rate at which it’s progressing and how interest is rapidly growing. For the retail sector especially, both AR and AI seem to have very strong benefits and could really transform the way we conduct our shopping in the near future. As the technology continues to advance and customer expectations evolve, retailers must start investing more in the services they offer to meet shoppers’ needs.

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