This January, Amazon patented a “blended reality” mirror. The mirror relies on cameras and projectors, layering pixels onto your image in real time — potentially allowing shoppers in the dressing room to see clothing on themselves that they never actually put on (and to see themselves wearing it in any location). If this concept sounds too futuristic to be true, you should note that it’s just one of the innovations coming this year, as shopping and tech collide in increasingly innovative ways. With stores and brands racing to embrace the future, it’s clear that AR, or augmented reality, is about to be a huge part of your shopping experience.
While virtual reality delivers you to a whole new world, AR blends technology with your reality — enhancing it rather than fully altering it. This is ideal for brick and mortar retailers who want to make visiting a physical store more attractive and fun. And new pieces of tech — like Amazon’s mirror — usher in scores of fascinating possibilities. Imagine getting to see how your outfit will pair with the colors of the space you’ll actually wear it in. Or how your date’s outfit will match. Plus, it could be a huge time saver. Rather than having to retry several different combinations of clothing to decide which pants look best with which shirt, you could try them all once. Then mix and match in the mirror — in seconds.
“You’ve tried on a shirt, and so you trust the fit of it. You understand what the materials feel like,” retail expert Melissa Gonzalez explains, “but it’s more helpful to be able to press a button and see all the color options than changing your shirt nine times.”
Gonzalez is the author of the book, The Pop-Up Paradigm: How brands build human connections in a digital age. She’s also the founder of the pop-up firm, Lion’esque — which often utilizes new technology for retailers looking to try something fresh. With the expanding of AR and AI in retail, she tells us, the possibilities are literally boundless.
“Experiential technology is definitely a big part of the retail conversation,” she says. “And it’s exciting.”
Hoping to drive customers back into physical stores, big brands are experimenting more and more with the integration of technology that will create an interactive and immersive experience for customers — combining the convenience of shopping online with human connection and tangible products. Over the last several years, the focus of shopping-based technology has been devoted to making it easier to shop online. We’ve gotten used to the convenience of being able to browse from the comfort of our homes, and then, have products delivered cheaply and quickly to our doorsteps. But there are downsides to shopping online too. Studies show that customers want more personalized experiences. They expect service and connection. And that desire may bring people back into real-life stores.
Once they arrive, however, customers want the same level of “you might like X because you liked Y!” support they get online. The lack of personal knowledge can make a visit to a department store feel less convenient. Don’t they know how much I hate khaki? With AR, your data, preferences, and history can be added back into the storefront experience — allowing employees to tailor the experience to you. AI in stores (in combination with augmented reality) could allow them to suggest products you have a history of buying. Want to add a belt? Instead of having to look through every option (or even leave the dressing room) the tech could know the kinds of belts you’d prefer, throwing you just a few, more personalized suggestions.
“Brands have gotten to where they’ve collected a robust amount of data,” Gonzalez says. “That’s helping them make smarter decisions about the colors that they offer or the size that makes sense. It tells them the neighborhood that they should be in and it can really tailor the experience in a more personalized way.”