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Augmented reality

Augmented reality

Paul Skeldon, Mobile Editor, InternetRetailing, looks ahead to the changes ahead for mobile in 2019.

Let me ask you a question. Do you want to challenge Amazon and its online dominance of retail, revamp your High Street presence and sell more than your competitors in 2019?

Thought so.

It might be every retailer’s list of New Year’s resolutions, but rather than me promising myself to drink less, sleep more and finally master the banjo, these retail resolutions are, in fact, achievable. With mobile.

Christmas 2018 was a very mobile affair. While online accounted for more than half of all Yuletide spending, according to MasterCard, 27% of the total – more than half of the online spend – was done on mobile devices. This past Christmas was the first proper mobile Christmas.

However, that isn’t really the big news that we take forward into 2019: mobile as a channel is a given. What is news is how it is likely to have some rather fundamental impacts on retail craft over the next 12 months – much of it positive.

Before we get into that, though, it is important to look at the backdrop around which mobile will play its pivotal role. With High Street shops closing at an increasing pace – their doors forced shut by the pressure of online’s dominance, as well as unrealistic rents and rates – and shoppers being more circumspect about how they spend with the uncertain shadow of Brexit hanging over them, retail is feeling battered and bruised. But that doesn’t mean that shops are dead. Far from it. In reality, they are not drowning, but changing.

And it is this change that provides the opening for mobile – it is the key to bringing changing shopping habits and the old world of retail together. So aside from the obvious – better informed staff armed with mobile devices, better payments from phones and watches and the rest, what are the really revolutionary retailers going to do with mobile in 2019 – and how is it going to help stop giants like Amazon eating their lunch?


One of mobile’s most underrated attributes has long been its use as a ‘voice machine’ with an eye on the world. In other words it is a web-enabled telephone (in the most literal sense, ‘tele’ meaning ‘from afar’ and ‘phone’ meaning ‘voice’ or ‘sound’ in Greek) combined with a gimlet-eye camera.

To date the smartphone has been seen by retailers – and pretty much everyone else – as a screen. However, as voice controlled devices such as smart speakers have started to gain traction at home, so the voice recognition potential of the phone is starting to come to the fore.

According to a study late last year by RedBox, 76% of CIOs, general C-suite and IT management enterprise employees believe that a ‘Voice First’ strategy will be in place across retail businesses within five years, showing a clear shift towards recognising the value of the spoken word – with 95% of C-level executives regarding voice data as “valuable” or “very valuable” to their organisation.

Google Home, while a nifty in-house smart speaker, also comes as a smartphone app – one reason why Argos was quick to tie up with Google rather than Amazon, when it made its move into ‘voice commerce’ last year.

“Voice technology has the potential to revolutionise how we shop in the future,” says John Rogers, CEO at Argos. “Digital home assistants have soared in popularity over the past year and people are increasingly looking to their smart devices to help with the smooth running of their lives.”

He continues: “Argos is a digitally-led business at the forefront of technology and it’s really exciting that we are harnessing the simplicity of voice ordering with the convenience and popularity of click and collect to make our customers’ lives easier. We predict that the Voice Shop service will be a big hit and we will develop and refine the offer further as we get feedback from our customers.”

Alongside these developments, retailers are also looking at how to exploit the camera. While, augmented and virtual reality garner the headlines (and which we shall come to anon), image recognition on smartphones – and the visual search that that delivers – is also starting to gain ground, with more to come in 2019.

Already, eBay, Asos and H&M to name but three have, if you’ll pardon the pun, looked into it. App provider Poq has added it as standard to its product range. With retailers looking to differentiate themselves, visual search is going to be a key tool in 2019.

“Moments of shopping inspiration can come at any time, whether you’re walking down the street or browsing your social media feed,” explains Rob Hattrell, Vice President, eBay UK. “At eBay, we’re focused on creating new complementary technology that helps our millions of customers. Whether this is helping buyers to easily find the things they love at the best value, or by surfacing relevant inventory from sellers on the platform in a new and engaging way. eBay Image Search makes it possible for people to shop and sell on eBay by using any image or photo that inspires them.”

The advantages of visual search – particularly to the ever-less patient Gen X and Y – is that it creeps ever nearer to instant retail gratification. What makes it more attractive to retailers is that it can, used cleverly, provide a much needed link between the web and the store.

The benefits to retailers, says Poq, are more completed searches, higher conversion rates, higher engagement and 30% month on month user growth. It also assuages the consumer needs for instant gratification and makes finding exactly what they want straightforward.

Conventional wisdom may suggest that it is a great way to find stuff to buy in the endless online aisle, but it can also be a way of driving people who are out and about to a store. It can also be used in-store to augment the experience.


Augmentation is the next step for visual commerce. While there will be a ground-swell of visual search services in 2019, there is also likely to be a move to incorporate more AR and VR – and MR, where real, augmented and virtual are mixed together.

The advantages of this sort of technology have long waited for a problem to solve – and it seems that where it finds its feet lies in allowing users to visualise virtual goods in their home and even on their bodies. This closes a circle that has long dogged ecommerce: the need to ‘see’, ‘feel’ and ‘try’ goods before buying. AR delivers this.

AR, where additional content and information is overlaid onto the real world on the phone or tablet screen, has already found increasing use in 2018. In the run up to Black Friday, Amazon added AR to its app aimed at giving shoppers the ability to visualise thousands of Amazon goods for sale on Black Friday – and beyond – before buying them.

Using the feature, shoppers check selected products from all angles by tapping on the AR View option available in the camera icon in the app search bar. They can even spin things round through 360-degrees using just one finger. Big ticket household items, such as white goods, coffee makers and more, can also be viewed in situ, overlaid onto the shopper’s room, tables, or surfaces to give an idea of fit.

This move towards real deployment of AR comes hot on the heels of Domino’s Pizza also rolling out an AR function in its app, to allow hungry customers to view the combinations of toppings they may want to select on a variety of pizza bases.

AR is also starting to take flight with other retailers, with Flixmedia offering a nifty free AR add on to retailers, as outlined in our recent webinar. Here retailers including Curry’s PC World are experimenting with using super-accurate AR to not only visualise what products will look like in the home, but also if they will fit in the space available. 

While AR is delivering some much needed ‘try before you buy’ for online retailers, AR also has the ability to use visual commerce to aid beleaguered stores.

“Mixed Reality (MR) has perhaps the most potential for retailers,” says Tim Morgan-Hoole, Managing Director, JTRS, a digital transformation agency. “While AR is used to overlay digital graphics onto real-world environments and VR immerses the user in a head-mounted simulation, MR uses a combination of both to deliver a unique, immersive experience. Users can interact with their physical surroundings while also benefiting from additional digital elements – something which could prove to be a game-changer in the retail world.”

This ‘best of both worlds’ approach is not only going to help retailers deliver the kinds of experience that consumers want, but it is all part of the transformation of retail that is likely to occur across 2019. The High Street isn’t dying, it is changing – and these technologies are going to be part of that change.

Simultaneously, online retail is also becoming increasingly competitive and these pure-plays also need to up their game. Again, mobile based AR, visual and voice interaction are going to be the drivers of this new world order.

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