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Tech Tuesdays: How AR Can Help Retailers Build Connections with Consumers – From a Distance

This is the latest installment in FN’s new series, Tech Tuesdays. Each week, FN will take a closer look at one area of digital innovation and explore how these technologies are changing the way footwear operates. The shoe industry is known for combining heritage craftsmanship with the latest advances: This column will examine that intersection.

The acceleration of e-commerce during 2020 has seen more shoppers from every demographic choose to purchase online. But while consumers benefit from the convenience and efficiency of digital shopping, there is also the lost experience of browsing and discovering products in person. A significant challenge for retailers has been finding a way to close that gap between product and consumer, even if they have to remain at a physical distance.

“When a shopper is not able to touch or try the product physically, the biggest challenge for a retailer is to build a perception of a product in customers’ minds,” said Sergey Arkhangelskiy, CEO at AR marketing platform Wanna, formerly Wannaby. “Retailers use product images, descriptions, product reviews, etc. in order to build an image of a product for customers, but it’s still far from what is possible offline.”

Retailers are observing the lack of connection that can occur when a customer only sees a static image of an item online – and some are taking action to address it. One popular approach has been the use of augmented and virtual reality. Commonly used for entertainment and in-store marketing ploys, AR and VR are increasingly being adopted for e-commerce as a way to give shoppers a more three-dimensional understanding of product.

Through an AR application on a smartphone, the user can transpose a digital copy of the product into their own environment. If a shopper is browsing for a pair of shoes and wants to see how a particular style might look on them, they can direct the camera towards their feet and the AR tool is able to map the product onto their body. This replicates the experience of trying on a pair of shoes, without needing to visit a store.

GOAT AR Try-On Nike Air Max Day
Retailers like GOAT are using AR for e-commerce, delivering several classic Nike Air Max shoes in March 2021 via AR Try-On.
CREDIT: Courtesy of GOAT

“Obviously, AR is not able to reproduce physical senses,” said Arkhangelskiy. “Is this shoe heavy? How would it feel on my feet? But on the other hand, you can try the product immediately, see how it works with your outfit. And all of this you can do from the comfort of your sofa.”

This technology has been particularly valued while brick-and-mortar has been restricted, but many retailers plan to offer these solutions on a permanent basis. The appeal of purchasing online, without needing to travel to a store or deal with other shoppers, is likely to endure post-pandemic; data suggests that while some shoppers plan to return to stores, many expect to continue shopping online even as stores open or do a mix of both.

So, if shoppers aren’t testing product in store, brands need to find a way to bring the items to them. The ability to interact with styles in a personal environment can build a deeper connection between shopper and product. Being able to compare their choice against already-owned items and view it from multiple angles, not just a static product image online, can give shoppers more confidence about their purchase and encourage conversion.

“In the coming years, I foresee the merge of online and offline shopping,” said Arkhangelskiy. “When in the store, you’ll be able to scan QR codes and try these shoes [virtually], even if they are out of stock. But most importantly, the share of online sales will be increasing for the next decade, with more and more people shopping online. AR Try-On and other interactive experiences will fill the gap in experiences between offline and online and will support this tectonic shift.”

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