Thanks to Snapchat, Augmented Reality is Here to Stay

Be'Anka Ashaolu
Be'Anka Ashaolu
Sr. Manager, Digital Marketing

With the popularity and widespread use of platforms like Snapchat, having shoppers’ bodies, features, living spaces, apparel, and more filtered through augmented reality has moved from mind-blowing to routine.

I’m late to the Snapchat party. Yes, I’m that old person who still really loves Instagram.

After creating my Snapchat account two months ago, the very first filter that came across my
confused face was from Benefit. Yes, that Benefit – the makeup company. All this time I thought Snapchat filters were for flower crowns and dog ears, but one look at my fabulous brows, and it hit me: this is a huge opportunity for retailers.

There’s a name for this technology and it’s not just for faces. It’s called augmented reality (AR). I like to think of it as virtual reality’s first cousin (check out what Best Buy is doing with VR). And up until Snapchat, most people never really knew what it was – or at least, never realized it was possible in our non-Jetsons world (Unless, of course, they were one of those early adopting, Google Glass people. Or, just quicker than me at picking this stuff up).

As opposed to VR, AR doesn’t immerse you in a fantasy world. Instead, it uses the real world we live in – our faces, our rooms, our wardrobes – and digitally enhances it. This means my actual eyebrows will arch higher just by staring in a screen and applying a filter – not that I’ll be dropped in a makeup chair in the middle of a department store.

Imagine what this could mean. Retailers are scrambling to close the digital-physical gap, even with shoppers still preferring to buy in-store. But, even so, the ease and convenience offered by digital is an undeniable challenge. Consumers crave an experience that feels seamless across all channels – 63% of millennials shop on their smartphones everyday! – and the most opportune bridge is the ubiquitous mobile device.

With the omnipresence of mobile comes huge opportunities to engage your shoppers where they are, with what they want, at the right time. But AR, along with any digital campaign, can’t be done in a vacuum. While I enjoyed Benefit’s eyebrow filter – and it was a great first look – AR can’t replace what I personally find most valuable: touch and feel. Mobile may bridge the gap, but it won’t always close the deal. It’s important to map the shopper journey from beginning to end and account for all buyers at every stage, whether online or in-store.

When done right, AR for makeup and furniture companies is immediately intriguing. Just last week I attempted to rearrange my furniture to try to picture what another couch would look like in my living room and it was a disaster.

But had I tried IKEA’s catalogue app, I could have been placing cute furniture all over the place.

IKEA is just one retailer getting in on this early. You can spot several retailers from Benefit to Converse jumping on AR in various ways from in-store tablets to downloadable apps.

And with the popularity and widespread use of technologies like Snapchat, having our features, living rooms, apparel, and other items augmented is not the mind-blower it once was. I’d wager that it’s verging on normal.

How have you seen augmented reality used in retail? Let me know who’s doing it right in the comments below.

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