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As Coronavirus disrupts retail, AR shifts to necessity

Coronavirus is unsettling every aspect of our lives, including our retail experiences. 

As consumers have become more confined to their home, online shopping is now more important than ever and augmented reality (AR) technology has been thrust into the limelight to help online retailers deliver an efficient shopping experience.

With the global count of coronavirus cases continuing to rise, most of us have been sent home from work and are expected to stay productive. Technology makes working from home easier, but as people get situated in their home office, they may be looking for a new desk, monitor, chair, couch, or other creature comforts to make their new workspace feel more productive. 

Unfortunately, with recent social distancing recommendations, consumers are more and more reluctant to visit stores in person, which is severely affecting retailers in nearly every industry. In addition, with social distancing measures in place, people have more time that’s giving way to projects that have been put off—new pictures to fill empty walls, a new couch for the living room, or a new dresser for the bedroom. This is where AR comes in.

Retailers that already have AR capabilities in place are better prepared as consumers are able to use their smartphones to view furniture and other products and bring to life how they’ll look in their home. Instead of having to guess basic questions like, “Will it fit?”, “Does it match?”, “Are the colors right for the room?”, or “Can I still walk around the couch once it’s in my living room?”, customers can use AR technology to know for sure, leading to better buying decisions.

AR technology has been growing in use by consumers for several years. Pokemon Go brought AR to the forefront when it took the world by storm in 2016, but since then, the technology has matured substantially. Over two billion phones are capable of displaying high quality, true-to-size AR content, unlocking a new reality for online shoppers. Moreover, the evolution of WebAR (augmented reality that can be accessed via a web browser instead of a dedicated native app) is allowing brands to offer AR directly on their website, bypassing the need to build and maintain expensive apps that few will actually download.

Brands that have been early adopters of AR technology have seen significant lift in sales for several years. Conversion rates are increasing anywhere from 10% to as much as 200%. Product returns are dropping by 25%. Time to make buying decisions has been cut in half. AR is making impacts with real ROI that can’t be ignored, even without looming fears of coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic is testing every facet of our infrastructure—education, work, restaurants, supply chains, healthcare, networking, sales, and so much more. Innovation is inevitable and required for life to go on. People are finding new ways to do everything. Children are logging into Zoom to go to school. Food delivery apps are bogged down with requests. Doctors are spending more time on video calls than with actual patients in their office. AR will be further adopted to help consumers buy the right thing the first time without ever having to leave their house.

This is a time of change, and the businesses that use this time to adopt these new technologies that have changed from a nicety to a necessity will thrive. Unfortunately, this could be the final nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar retailers that can’t survive two months with no in-person customers. It is a tough time for all, but life must go on. We will adapt and survive. Humans have done it over and over for thousands of years, and we’ll come out the other side stronger than ever.

AR is no longer an option. At-home shopping is a trend that has been steadily growing since the telephone was invented, and is now the norm. The industry needs to be more efficient. With an anticipated $1 trillion in returns expected in 2020 and increased pressure to deliver a world-class home shopping experience to consumers, it’s time for this technology to take the front seat.

Jon Cheney is CEO and co-founder of SeekXR, which provides web-based augmented reality solutions for e-commerce.

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