Augmented reality enables brands to create unique experiences for potential customers, whose interaction with the experience is often their first encounter with a functional and practical augmented reality (AR) feature.
A good augmented reality experience is fresh and cool. For many customers, augmented reality is an adventure and an encounter with the future, and brands that can execute an innovative AR experience are able to position themselves as hip pioneers.
That being said, many businesses are falling into the lull of viewing AR as something they need to stay relevant and compete with their AR-equipped competition. Businesses aren’t taking into account the first-mover advantage of a select few brands that already successfully rolled out their experiences at a commercial level, leaving them to chase their dust in hopes of achieving a similar effect.
This thought process could dilute a brand’s focus away from its return on investment (ROI) and potentially blind it to new technologies and applications. Every so often, one of our clients asks us whether it would be a good idea to build an AR app for a series of campaigns. I often suggest to take a step back from the glitz and glamor of new technologies and place themselves in the shoes of the customer.
Not all that glitters is gold
In January 2019, the century-plus-old jewelry retailer chain Helzberg Diamonds introduced the Helzberg Virtual Ring Experience, enabling shoppers to virtually try different ring styles online and “experience” their potential new shiny ring in multiple viewing angles in seven next-gen stores. The legacy jewelry retailer is looking to innovate within its industry and bridge the gap for “ROPO” (research online, purchase offline) shoppers.
Finding creative ways to enhance the customer experience is a staple for survival in the digital era. With so many awesome new developments in technology, ranging from augmented reality to full-on virtual reality immersive experiences, there are numerous ways to make a powerful impression on customers in 2019.
However, too many companies get lost in the metaphorical sauce and sacrifice precious focus to chase shiny new technologies with the hopes of being seen as an innovator, or worse yet, attempting to catch a tailwind from the first-mover advantage of a true innovator in their space. There will likely be a slew of jewelry and wearable companies looking to create similar experiences to Helzberg Diamonds. To increase brand perception and sales, these brands must seek out ways to enhance their own customer’s journey, rather than copy and pasting a similar solution and expecting similar results.
Keep your eyes on your ROI
Warby Parker is often hailed as one of the most innovative direct-to-consumer brands for its disruptive Home Try-On program that sent people different glasses to try on before making a purchase. In February 2019, the glasses trailblazer rolled out its Virtual Try-On feature, an augmented reality app that enables customers to swap different pairs of AR glasses on their face at home.
Augmented reality presents an interesting dilemma for many entrepreneurs and ad agencies. On one hand, AR will surely provide a small minority of potential customers an experience that nudges them toward making a purchase and forming a familiarity with the brand. On the other hand, AR experiences might actually scatter a company’s internal focus for user and customer acquisition.
Brands will undoubtedly study Warby Parker’s Virtual Try-On and try to emulate it, but they may not be prepared to risk a drop in their ROI. Building a good AR experience can be costly, and many of these experiences may end up getting shelved from lack of use. A high-quality augmented reality app can cost well over six figures, and skimping on AR app development might turn off users to the experience (and your brand) altogether.
A business or agency that invests a significant portion of their quarterly budget into an AR experience might hesitate to let their technology go quietly into the night, leading them to push it to become a more central piece in the customer journey.
The expectation that every potential customer is willing to whip out their smartphone or go to your in-store booth just to discover your AR functionality is only going to end in disappointment. If a business is going as far as to make the AR feature a core component of the customer’s journey, it could actually end up inadvertently creating an obstacle and only hurt the brand in the long run.
As augmented reality technology matures, businesses will surely be able to take advantage of enhancing their customer journeys. However, there is a fine line between making a strategic technology investment to improve the bottom line and running the risk of looking like a gimmick to salvage the high upfront costs of creating the experience.
Before embarking on any significant investments into AR, try to get an intimate understanding of what would enhance your customers' experience as opposed to purely hypothesizing. Put together a handful of ideas (e.g., an AR app to see how a pair of shoes would look on a customer's feet), and get out there and ask your customers their honest thoughts. Sift through the noise to find what would have a material impact on the experience your customers have when interacting with your brand, and try to quantify how an AR app would impact your ROI if it succeeds or fails.