Larry Scheinfeld: How Augmented Reality is Affecting Brick & Mortar Stores

The Internet has taken a lot of people out of brick & mortar stores. For instance, 20% of Great Britain’s non-food shopping was done online in 2013. Meanwhile, U.S. shopping malls have been closing for years, with hundreds more predicted to close in the coming years. However, Internet-based augmented reality (AR)—built for smartphones and other devices—is changing the way brick & mortar stores do business and may have a huge impact on bringing customers back to physical shopping locations.

AR allows people to have a better, more immersive shopping experience. According to Javelin Strategy & Research 2013, a top reason why shoppers still frequent brick & mortar stores in the digital age is to see, feel, or try on products before purchasing them. But, physical space is limited and a brand’s entire inventory may not be in stock at a specific location. AR allows stores to bypass these concerns. For example, American Apparel’s AR app allows smartphone users who find themselves in a physical store to see how a piece of clothing would look in a different size and color. If the store is out of stock of their chosen option, the app provides an opportunity to buy the selected product online, thereby letting the company nab the sale even if the specific brick & mortar location cannot supply the wanted product.

Other brick & mortar stores offer unique AR experiences, too. Shiseido uses in-store AR technology to help women design their perfect makeup look. After letting the store’s interface take their photo, shoppers can see a clear picture of how any product would look on them. Hoping to create an even more engaging experience, Topshop has partnered with Kinect to build AR dressing rooms that will allow shoppers to try on various products without the hassle of using a physical dressing room.

Shopping malls are also using AR to attract customers by providing exclusive discounts and deals. By using Beacons, low-energy Bluetooth transmitters that can reach shoppers’ smartphones while they frequent a shopping center, stores can send messages to nearby shoppers that feature attractive offers.

Finally, in addition to providing better shopping experiences for people who are already in their stores, an even greater number of brick & mortar companies are attracting new customers by letting them use AR at home. Renowned diamond company De Beers’ AR app allows potential customers to use their webcam to try on its Forevermark collection wherever it is most convenient for them. The app adjusts to various skin tones and even different light levels. Furniture stores like Ikea and Sayduck have also released AR apps that use a smartphone’s camera to display what a piece of furniture would look like in the user’s physical space. Ikea’s app measures the size of the room and surrounding objects to give the user a true-to-life visual of how its product would fit and look.