A new reality in retail?

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Fed up with reality? Well, now you don’t even have to don a cumbersome headset and goggles to escape, because augmented, virtual and mixed reality are now so popular with consumers that they are reshaping how smartphones work and how apps are designed – and they are going to shake up the retail world too.

This week we find that we are awash with AR, VR and MR news – but we shouldn’t be surprised. The promise of overlaying the web onto the real world has been knocking about for ages, but thanks to things like Pokemon Go, SnapChat and a new raft of apps that help with improving selfies and bringing astronomy to life, consumers are now very much hungry for more.

In fact, a study by online smartphone retailer Mobiles.co.uk has found that, while interest in wearables has declined by 18% in a year, searches for smartphones that are going to be good at VR are up 300%.

Much of this has been driven by interest in apps that can overlay or change things on phones, but it is also starting to be seen as something that consumers are finding ultra-useful.

A separate study by Vista Retail Support finds that 96% of consumers who have experienced Augmented Reality (AR) in a retail store say they found it helpful and report that it has improved their shopping experience.

Perhaps more pressingly, more than half (56%) of those who have not experienced AR in store believe it should be a priority for retailers to implement it. What’s more, 75% of respondents say that they see the value in these AR applications in the retail space and would feel encouraged to make use of them.

And, as ever, the customer is always right: even if not for the right reasons. For shoppers, AR in particular offers some clear and fun benefits. Extra information can be added to the real world, especially, in stores to help them shop and buy. Outside of the store, AR and MR can be used to bring advertising to live, making it more informative and, soon, shoppable from the MR environment.

All great stuff – but for tech companies there are different reasons to get be heartened by this early customer fascination with AR tech. As deep research by Futuresource reveals, AR/MR is seen by the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft et al as the next major computing platform that will revolutionise content, interaction, shopping, entertainment and more – not just from overlaying the web on the real world, but by changing how we interact with both.

Here then we must warn you: at some point AR and MR is likely to be standardised around one or two key platforms. Currently, it looks likely that social media companies, Facebook in particular, are out in front – they are after all device agnostic. But never underestimate Apple and Google.

Either way, someone is going to come out on top in the AR/MR game – and once that happens the revolution will be, well not quite televised, but overlayed.

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