Augmented reality is starting to fill in genuine gaps in the customer experience, easing pain points and simplifying customer journeys

Augmented reality (AR) is the blend of the real world and interactive digital elements, and while sounding like something from science fiction, it has become an increasingly common part of retail experiences in recent years.

While in the past AR technology had a bad reputation as something that was shoehorned into marketing and customer experiences without fully being thought out – think Jack Daniels transforming their bottles into a pop-up story book explaining their manufacturing process or Chiquita, the banana company, using AR to boast about their sustainability credentials – recently, it has become an incredibly useful part of the customer experience offered by several brands.

The key is to use AR in a way that serves a purpose, rather than as a gimmick that leaves customers wondering why it was used at all. In Jack Daniels’ case, the brand had been telling their story successfully for years on their bottles, without the help of a pop-up story book. For Chiquita, AR technology could have easily been replaced by something simpler. San Diego’s upscale restaurant, Harney Sushi, tackled the same issue by allowing customers to scan edible QR codes. They would be routed to a website where they could access a wealth of information about how and where their fish was sourced from alongside other information about sustainability.

When AR is used for a specific purpose that suits the technology, it can be very useful and impactful. Brands like Sephora have used AR to aid their customer journey, as trying on make-up with AR mirrors allows customers to test different shades of colour before making a purchase. Moving this to their online experience means that customers can test make-up from the comfort of their own home, in real time. This allows customers not only to test the products easily but, with facial recognition, while they’re moving as they would in real life.

Other brands have used AR to target pain points in the customer journey. Argos and Ikea have used AR to allow customers to simulate how furniture would look and fit in their homes. This circumvented a long-winded process of measuring and imagining but also allowed customers to have more time to explore products online and offline. In a similar vein, KLM have added an AR baggage size check, which allows customers to check if their baggage fits inside of the overhead compartments before they get to the airport. All of these companies are using AR technology to make the customer journey smoother and easier, instead of using AR for the sake of it.

Amid the Covid 19 pandemic, AR suddenly has a crucial role to play in facilitating all kinds of customer experiences that have had to abruptly move online. AR has meant that luxury shopping can continue even while a lockdown is in place, with brands like Rolex and Gucci using augmented reality apps to allow customers who would never buy luxury items sight-unseen to “try on” their products while they can’t get to a physical store.

As AR technology in marketing has matured, it has continued to become more and more relevant. No longer just a gimmick, it is now being used to fill in genuine gaps in the customer journey. Easing pain points, simplifying customer journeys and even sourcing more niche products and services (take a look at the Inkhunter app to see how they’re making finding the perfect tattoo easier) are just some of the new ways AR is being used. And you can be sure that more and more ingenious uses for AR technology will continue to come to light as the technology itself continues to progress.