AR, or augmented reality, may sound like something better left to science fiction novels, however it’s increasingly permeating our everyday lives. Even if you’ve been able to avoid the craze of Pokémon Go, there’s a chance you may have come across it in sport, where it’s famously used to mark the yellow first down lines on an American football pitch, the hospital or even advertising displays. If you haven’t, there’s an even stronger chance that you will do soon. Retail and the supply chain are no different.
For those that are still trying to get their heads around the fundamentals of AR, it’s essentially the combination of virtual reality mixed with the real world in the form of live video imagery. This can both be experienced through headsets or, in the case of Pokémon Go, projected onto the real world. The benefits of this are in the opportunity to then create real-life scenarios without having to commit to the effects. For example, a medical student might use AR to practice surgery, whereas the military may use it to present critical information such as enemy location.
There are already instances where AR has been applied in the world of retail. Lacoste is an example of a brand that has integrated AR into one of its apps, with its LCST mobile app allowing customers to virtually try on shoes. It also creates AR experiences with window displays, in-store signage and promotional postcards.
IKEA is perhaps the most famous example, using AR as early as 2012 to project its shelves and tables into your living room. By making the shopping experience interactive and far easier for the consumer, both examples reflect how applicable AR can be in the retail environment.
This ease of use means there’s no doubt that AR is the future of the in-store layout, allowing for vast improvements in choice for consumers. Its benefits, however, are going to be incremental, as it’s yet to prove a return on investment for retailers. What this means for the next few years for consumers is that there will be small scale changes appearing. An example that we will most likely begin to see is singular POS displays to be presented via AR in-store, due to the ease with which they can be changed and updated with new products.
There’s also a space for AR in the supply chain. The most obvious place for this is in the warehouse, where it can be used to provide a greater insight into picking. Using AR glasses to project pictures so the employees know what they should be looking for, using the distributor’s database of images, will help guide and save time when collecting products. Currently, volumetric scanning, which provides data on the size of a product, is a more common method used to aid pickers, though AR is certainly where the tech will end up heading.
Before AR is adopted in greater volumes it needs to prove it can provide a reasonable return on investment. Currently, it isn’t quite there yet, though its potential application in both retail and the supply chain is exciting and already being initiated in some corners. This potential is going to be achieved at some point, and when it does, we need to be ready to adopt AR and maximise it to the full.