07/08/2016 12:38 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 12:59 EDT

Achieving 24/7 Customer Engagement For Your Retail Brand

Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Shopping

Co-Authored by Averie Hah and Alan Shekhtman

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

Stay Mobile

It comes as no surprise that more shoppers than ever are staying connected online via mobile devices, with the majority of web traffic coming from smartphones and tablets. Consumers are deciding where and when to go shopping based on the information available online, and 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphones will actually visit a business within that day. In fact, shopping-related searches on Google increased 120% in the past year, and more searches occurred on mobile devices than on desktops. For businesses, this means that building an online presence that is specifically catered for mobile devices is essential to survive in this digital world. According to MasterCard, customers who shop both online and off with a specific retailer buy 250% more on average. This is an important indicator that an online shopping experience isn't necessarily replacing the "real" brick-and-mortar store purchases, but rather that it's complimenting them.These trends should be a wake-up call for all retailers to be accessible and informative online especially for consumers on mobile devices not only through mobile-friendly websites but also through tools like brand applications that feature augmented reality and virtual reality technology.

Arbonne - Augmented Reality app from Merchlar on Vimeo.

Using Augmented Reality To Help Shoppers

Due to the widespread digital information, consumers' decision-making process can be affected right until the actual transaction. 1 out of 4 shoppers who consult their phones regarding purchases will actually abandon their purchase while in the check-out line after receiving further information on their phone. Seeing the impact online information can have, it is of utmost importance for brands to have accurate and helpful information easily available on mobile devices as more consumers turn to their phones.

Among the ever growing number of retail brand mobile websites and apps, Sephora leverages its mobile audience much better than many other brands. They encourage in-store customers to go on the Sephora app to scan products and receive product ratings, reviews, and other key information. This generates more consumer interest in their products and allows consumers to feel confident in their purchase decisions. Furthermore, customers are more engaged in-store as Sephora bridges mobile and physical shopping. The fact that Sephora's consumers already scan items and receive product information while in-store naturally points to augmented reality (AR) technology. Through AR, consumers can access not only the product information but also a variety of contents that can entertain, educate and guide them to enhance their in-store experience. In fact, one Japanese aquarium offered an AR app to provide further information and engagement opportunities to visitors. Because of the app, the aquarium saw a 152% increase in traffic.

L'Oreal has already adopted a similar technology for their Make-Up Genius app. It allows users to scan their facial features, browse catalogs or actual products in-store and then virtually apply the makeup before making a purchase. It has seen multi-million downloads and a tremendous amount of interactions. Yihaodian, one of the largest grocery retailers in China has already introduced 'virtual stores' using AR and saw a 130% increase in e-commerce sales.

Fashion retail brands are adopting AR as well, and some have already seen extremely positive results. Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff adopted smart mirrors, which serve as a communication tool between the store's sales associates and the consumer -- almost like a virtual sales assistant -- and have seen a 300% increase in sales and achieved 90% engagement in-store. Smart mirrors are a prominent AR technology in the fashion industry. This shows the importance of providing highly mobile information that is readily available and interactive even in-store.

Aside from in-store experience enhancement, AR can also help in retail advertising. A UK study showed that parents who saw an AR ad of a toy engaged 71 seconds longer and perceived the product's value to be higher by 33.4%. Parents who actually considered buying the toy saw an engagement increase of 64% . This shows how powerful AR can be in communicating any retail product's benefits to today's extremely aware and conscious consumers, whose attention is becoming harder to capture. To support this argument, a study found that almost half of surveyed shoppers agreed that they have a better experience when sales associates use the latest technologies to assist them.

More and more retail brands are using mobile technology such as AR to stay relevant among today's omnichannel consumers, and the returns should indicate that AR is evidently the next logical step for many retail brands.