All customers want for 2022 is augmented reality

Christmas is a time for reflection, and most retailers will probably spend some time around the holidays looking back on a tumultuous year. The challenges that the retail industry faced in the past 18 months are well known, but many have not stopped to think about the positives and what lies ahead.

Over the course of the crisis, we’ve all been forced to go online for, well, pretty much everything. This has significantly accelerated retail’s digitisation, creating a sharp divide between winners and losers in retail. As we look back on 2021, it’s important to highlight Ofcom’s annual survey of media habits, which found that UK adults spent an average of three hours and 47 minutes online every day during the pandemic, over an hour longer than our neighbours in Germany and France. Unsurprisingly, this behaviour led to a rise of 48% to £113bn in online shopping sales in the UK, confirming a dramatic shift in the way mass customers engage with online channels. However, this demand ultimately led to new and greater expectations from retailers in every field.

Looking back, moving forward

As we plan for the year ahead, analysing the spike in online shopping sales can help us draw some conclusions about what retail will look like in 2022. With the rise in opportunity comes an increase in competition, and those that previously owned a niche will see more challenges to their market share than ever before. This competitiveness will make the need to stand out even more urgent, with businesses risking getting lost without evolution, which requires integrating new digital technologies into customer buying journeys.

At Poplar Studio, we work with retailers who want to make their offering stand out and retain people’s attention in the face of unlimited consumer choice. We have learned how the most successful brands are those that utilise 3D models of their products and augmented reality (AR), offering branded experiences on e-commerce sites that enable the customer to visualise items on their body or in the real world. The move to ‘phygital’ – amalgamating the physical and digital – offers a huge opportunity across retail, advertising, social commerce, virtual gaming platforms and even the metaverse. With reports forecasting AR to go from a $7bn to $152bn industry within the next 10 years – seeing 22-fold revenue growth in the process – retailers will need to start exploring the best use of AR technology for their businesses from today.

The most in-demand assets we’ve seen and expect to continue into next year are product visualisations and virtual try-ons. We recently worked with multiple L’Oréal brands to showcase virtual try-ons of their cosmetic products through AR, and have witnessed an unparalleled engagement potential, with the average dwell time of an AR experience being 75 seconds, four times longer than the average video. Additionally, 61% of mobile AR users share the ads they come across with their network, creating new brand advocates in the process.

Sadly, COVID is still impacting the way we live our lives, and this isn’t going to change imminently, so the businesses that quickly identify the opportunity that AR represents will have the ability to thrive in 2022. Consumers have more, potentially too much, choice and it’s up to brands to stand out amongst the crowd and shine a light on what makes them special. Digital retail offers much more than any traditional brick-and-mortar business can in terms of marketing and active engagement, but the ability to physically engage with an item has always previously been the key weapon in the high street’s arsenal. Now that’s less appealing than ever, and we must utilise the rest of our tools to make the phygital the next best thing.

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