AR business is growing in popularity, and it becomes more and more obvious that it is not just a buzzword anymore. Augmented reality is more than just technology. Augmented reality for business is about strategic thinking and profitability – not only a new weapon in the great war for attention, but a new data source as well. To many people, the use of AR is limited to fancy Snapchat filters, flashy pokéballs and visual flair, but augmented reality has the potential to set your business on the way to long-term success. Just like it’s helped other businesses stand out, such as Ikea, Walmart and Coca Cola.
Technology alone is not enough to get ahead of competitors. You need to stand out in terms of customer experience and customer data utilization. To do so, make sure you pay attention to the following steps:
- Understand its functionality: make sure you understand the main trends in the AR market and the different use cases so you know how to get the most out of the technology.
- Address real pain points: know your business needs and customers alike so you can reveal the crucial pain points and introduce AR as a solution, not just another fancy distraction.
- Get a taste for innovation: Strategic thinking is all about continuous improvement. Polish your mindset and set out on a learning curve with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to this new technology.
The aim of this article is to guide you through these basic steps so you can follow your own unique path to success.
What is augmented reality?
Later in this article we will dive deeper into the topic of the different types of AR technology, but first, we have to clear up the confusion so you can tell the difference between AR and VR.
Virtual reality is totally detached from the real world: your vision and senses are manipulated through the VR headset and you are totally immersed in the virtual world. Imagine a VR visit to your dream home that doesn’t exist yet, except in the computer-generated virtual world created by an innovative expert and an interior designer.
Augmented reality is rooted in the real world but modifies it by overlaying digitized images to visualize a desired outcome or a product in an already existing environment. It can be your home: Imagine an AR app that projects the virtual image of a sofa into your living room. Or it can be your body – you can try lipstick shades, shoes and glasses digitally. No expensive headset is needed, you can use your tablet or smartphone for the AR experience. That’s one of the main reasons for its growing popularity in business — check out the numbers below.
AR business in numbers
Now that we’ve got the definitions straight, it’s important to take a look at the bigger picture of today’s AR market and the expectations for the future. We really are on the brink of a revolution.
- The AR market value was $1.8 billion in 2018 and rose to $3.5 billion in 2019. The AR market grows exponentially, it is predicted to reach over $80 billion by 2023, and big names of the premiere business league are paving the way for even more – Google, Samsung and Microsoft are all investing heavily in AR technology.
- Regarding AR hardware, it is anticipated that global AR headset shipments will reach over 30 million units; that’s 12 times more compared to 2020 expectations.
- The number of mobile AR users is predicted to reach 2.4 billion by 2023 – a crucial factor for its popularity in business use cases.
- There are staggering figures in advertising as well. Mobile AR ad revenue is expected to exceed $2 billion by 2022. 70% of consumers believe AR can bring them benefits and 67% of media planners and buyers want AR/VR ads in digital marketing campaigns.
Let’s take a look behind the numbers to discover the core functionality that fuels the growth of the AR market.
AR’s core functionality with business examples
In order to truly grasp the reason behind AR’s fast-growing popularity, you should understand the underlying business principles behind the technology. As augmented reality modifies our real world with digitized elements to seem real, it provides two revolutionary functions for businesses.
- It opens a new dimension for engagement – easy to use and ubiquitous thanks to smartphones but still a novelty thanks to emerging technologies.
- It relieves the psychological burden of consequences for businesses and consumers alike.
Immersive platform for quality engagement
Although 2D audiovisual content has the potential to engage the senses, the user is still passive in consuming content. Augmented reality upgrades the buyer journey as it is a quantum leap in user interaction. It transposes content into a 3D environment and totally immerses the visitors, so they can take part actively in the AR experience. Quality engagement has numerous benefits:
- It can boost brand awareness by creating a social buzz like with Pepsi’s AR-enabled bus stop display.
- It can be used to educate the customer in a fun way for maximum engagement, such as with Sephora’s AR-assisted makeup tutorials.
- It can be used to get quality data thanks to the users’ quality attention and long dwell-time in the AR experience.
- It can boost the conversion rate by facilitating product visualization for customers in ecommerce, such as with Ikea’s AR solution for checking furniture in the comfort of your home or Nike’s and Lacoste’s try-before-you buy apps.
- It can also enhance in-store shopping with the help of gamification like with Walmart’s AR games.
- It can be used for customer retention once the purchase has been made, with the help of AR packaging acting as a platform for content consumption, such as with Bombay Sapphire’s augmented label.
Endless possibilities without the consequences
The desire to remove the burden of consequences in a modern world full of options is the main drive that has fueled AR technology. Certain situations can be experienced virtually without suffering any consequences, which could range from minor wardrobe malfunctions to serious industrial accidents. AR can not only guide the customer’s fashion choices and eliminate bad buying decisions with state-of the art product visualization apps, but it can also help serious manufacturing and construction processes where remote experts manipulate their on-site colleague’s vision. Let’s see a few use cases:
- It can be used to visualize and try several products and also to modify the colour and texture of certain items to avoid the consequences of bad purchase decisions and the cost of returns.
- It can be used to facilitate the work for client service by giving the customers an AR-assisted visual aid, such as Hyundai’s user’s manual.
- It can be used to train employees so mistakes are not made in the real world. Bosch and Boeing have also developed an AR platform for corporate training.
- It can be used to facilitate operational processes for far-away colleagues with the help of experts projecting their vision into the on-site workers’ augmented reality. Thyssenkrupp, the global steel producer, uses Microsoft Hololens in its elevator service operations to help technicians.
- It can be an invaluable tool for B2B sales to visualize complex products. Ottobock, for example, used AR to demonstrate the inner workings of its prosthetic limbs.
- It can be used to roast your competition without any serious consequences: Burger King got cheeky when it introduced an AR app that allowed users to burn McDonald’s OOH ads – of course only in augmented reality. While walking on the streets users could wreak havoc and Burger King awarded them with free whoppers for their virtual vandalism.
Leverage the potential of AR for your business
Augmented reality goes far beyond ecommerce solutions and branded filters; it has a huge potential to transform your business inside out, from the way you interact with your customers to the profound operational processes in your company and even the style of your business card.
But don’t use AR only as a fancy visual distraction, as it will add nothing to your business, waste your time, annoy your customers and ultimately drain your money.
In order to make the best out of AR technology, find inspiration from the following case studies, as they each represent the guideline for success: first identify the main pain points, then find the right concept and content for the AR solution and finally choose the matching technology to implement the idea. Let’s jump straight into it!
From pain to gain: case studies of AR solutions
There are several successful AR implementations from all walks of business life. We chose three to give you examples and demonstrate the power of AR when it comes to curing pain points.
Warby Parker and social sharing
Warby Parker manufactures premium eyewear and decided to launch an AR extension on their webshop.
The pain: Warby Parker glasses realized that when customers enter their stores, while embarking on the hassle of trying glasses on, they immediately take photos of themselves and send it to friends to ask for their advice.
The solution: Warby Parker not only added an AR visualization platform where customers could try glasses on from the comfort of their couch, but it also integrated a social sharing function, so the AR-enhanced images can be saved and shared with friends straight from the app without interrupting the shopping experience.
The gain: Warby Parker managed to maximize engagement and generate earned media through the social sharing function – just like many other brands such as L’Oréal, Sephora and Nike. Branded filters and social-sharing functions have become more and more widespread in the AR business.
Yihaodian, the 2-in-1 experience
Businesses use AR to bridge the gap between the online and offline shopping experiences to maximize customer satisfaction. Yihaodian, the Chinese ecommerce grocery store, takes this to another level.
The pain: Yihaodian realized that despite the comfort ecommerce brings to customers, they still crave the experience of physically scanning shelves. With big competitors like Tesco and Carrefour, they needed a ground-breaking solution to save money on personnel and physical points of sale but engage users at the same time.
The solution: Yihaodian built virtual shops in China’s most strategic and iconic locations where people can shop right from the virtual shelves with the help of their smartphones. No more waiting in line or carrying heavy shopping bags, just the bright side of the traditional retail experience.
The gain: Yihaodian means number one in Chinese and they managed to open 1000 virtual stores overnight and compete with the biggest brick and mortar shops. Their success proves that AR has the potential to bring the physical world closer without sacrificing the comfort of the online world.
ARe and power of content
Our product visualization app goes beyond cloning physical products into augmented reality. It’s content where AR shows its true power.
The pain: Designers often face the challenge of finding the right time and right way to communicate the product details of their items. Especially at exhibitions where time and attention is scarce.
The solution: ARe helped designers get closer to people at Budapest Design Week exhibition by bringing life to product information. Once visitors downloaded the app, they could scan the designer items to read stories about the design concept, manufacturing processes and environmentally conscious materials.
The gain: Content is not just what your customers want to see. Content is also what you want them to see. Designers had the chance to tell their stories simultaneously to many visitors, reaching them at the peak of their interest for maximum customer convenience.
When identifying the crucial pain points in your business and finding the right concept and content to solve them, keep an eye on the above-mentioned examples:
- Augmented reality is about experience and experience is about sharing. Make sure you think of the possible social media solutions when designing your AR development.
- Augmented reality is about bringing the physical world closer to your customer, so it feels more real and tangible. Think of what your customers miss most from the physical world and find a solution without compromising the comfort and freedom of their online world.
- Augmented reality is about quality engagement and content. Don’t forget to integrate your content strategy into the AR development, since it’s an invaluable source for brand awareness and quality data.
From concept to completion: types of AR technology
After designing the AR concept, it is time to find the matching technology that can best serve you on your way to success. You should decide on what hardware to use, choose whether you want a marker-based or markerless technology and finally find the way to implement augmented reality into your business.
Expensive hardware vs smartphones
Expensive AR glasses such as the Microsoft Hololens can serve businesses well, but that’s more for business operations and processes. Healthcare, construction and engineering can all make good use of expensive AR hardware. Just think of the surgeon in the middle of an operation where augmented reality can overlay the patient’s physical body to provide a more secure medical intervention. Employee training can also be revolutionized with the help of these state-of-the art devices.
If your budget is limited, forget about buying expensive hardware – you can have it for free, it’s in your customer’s pocket, the omnipresent smartphone. Whether you’re a webshop owner striving to boost the shopping experience or you run a physical store where you want to facilitate in-store navigation and the hunt for discounts – your customer’s smartphone or tablet is all you need.
Marker-based vs Markerless AR
Marker-based AR technology uses a visual clue for the AR extension. The marker is a visible and physically existing object that triggers the AR projection when scanned through the device. This can be a QR code on a modern-day business card or packaging and label design for a specific product. In this case you need to know exactly what the user is looking at. Use this technology when you want a physically tangible product to be part of the AR experience, such as a brochure or your packaging design in your marketing campaign.
Markerless AR technology leaves it to the user where the AR projection should be placed, such as a furniture visualization app. No physical object is needed to trigger the AR experience, just the smartphone’s screen and a flat surface where the projection can appear. It gives much more flexibility and it’s ideal for product visualization. A subset of markerless technology is GPS or location-based AR, tracking the sensors of your mobile device for geo-targeting.
Web AR vs App AR
Web AR is gaining more and more popularity as it takes only a custom URL that opens in a smartphone browser and then asks for camera permissions. There’s no need to download an app, so it can be ideal for advertising campaigns and low frequency usage. However, this technology has its limitations as well. It requires a decent internet speed to work well. Furthermore browser caching can’t be leveraged properly due to the intensive content and this can lead to a laggy user experience. Web AR is still in its infancy, but it has a huge potential in spreading AR’s popularity thanks to its ease of use and low entry level.
App AR can unleash your creative genius as your possibilities are much broader if you choose an AR app to help you upgrade your business. Although your customers have to download the app in order to get the AR experience, app-based AR is perfect for frequent use, such as product visualization, because it provides a secure background for experiences requiring very precise AR capacities (e.g. furniture sized correctly in a room). AR apps can also provide a more detailed reporting functionality for your business, so you can make good use of the data breadcrumbs your customers leave after consuming compelling AR content.
When choosing the right technology, keep the following in mind:
- Make sure you choose a technology that is compatible with different operating systems and smartphones, and always consider the performance of your target audience’s hardware.
- Invest time and effort to get a deeper understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the different technological solutions to find out what works best for your business.
- Find an expert – although there’s plenty of information about AR, there are several components you might not be aware of, such as GDPR and security issues.
The innovative mindset for AR business
In order to get the best out of AR technology it is not enough to build your AR development and then lie back and do nothing. Technology can be a useful servant but it can’t substitute for genuine and up-to date content. In this fast-changing market what worked 2 years ago might become outdated so you should keep an eye on the results you get from the AR extension. Produce fresh content, analyze data to get the insights and improve — that’s at the heart of the innovative mindset.
Measure AR results to learn from the insights
After addressing the right pain points in your business with a killer concept and matching content in AR, implemented by the best technological solution, you have built a solid foundation for quality engagement — the starting point for success, followed by measurements, analysis and an iterative process.
If there’s quality engagement then there’s quality data as well. It’s not only the conversion rate and the engagement time that you can measure, you can also track your customer’s content consumption. With certain apps you can also benefit from a machine learning algorithm to get a detailed overview of your customer’s behaviour and buying habits.
Translating these data into key insights and implementing them into your business model is crucial to build AR into a strong fortress and not just a sand castle that gets washed away with any of the next waves of technological advancements.
AR and privacy
AR definitely is a gold mine for data, but make sure you pay attention to the privacy concerns. Choose wisely when it comes to AR development and design a GDPR-compliant AR solution. If you choose to work with an app developer team make sure they don’t collect any kind of personal data so users can maintain their anonymity.
Once you’re sure that your data mine is based on ethical grounds, you can set out to use it in order to improve your customers’ AR experience and pave the way for long-term business success.
New business horizons
Augmented reality is not just a buzzword anymore – it’s shaping our reality as much as it’s transforming the business arena. The future has arrived, and this technology is still relatively new, with its true potential just being discovered. There are countless use cases ranging from complex B2B sales to expensive surgical and engineering applications and of course budget solutions for webshops.
Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones and budget options for AR technology, now it is also available for smaller businesses. It’s the best time to jump into it, before it gets even more crowded with competitors. It is a great opportunity for your business – as long as it truly improves the customer experience by helping and not distracting the customers.
We hope this article helps you apply AR in your strategy and unleash the true potential in your business. Our aim was to broaden your horizon and show you the immense possibilities this technology can offer for businesses, but also to help you narrow down the possible solutions that could work in your particular case in order to win as big with AR as possible.