Augmenting innovation

Mar 29, 2018

After online fashion giants ASOS revealed this week that augmented reality is behind its latest innovation, GDR’s John O’Sullivan explores how brands are starting to use the technology to enhance customer touchpoints and streamline backend logistics


This week British e-commerce fashion brand ASOS announced plans to use models with multiple body shapes on the product pages of each of its items.

Customers browsing within the brand’s app will now be able to see what products look like on different models with varying dress sizes.

As well as promoting body positivity, ASOS hopes this will make it easier for a wider audience to visualise how its products will look on them, thus diminishing the need for returns.


It’s not just what ASOS is doing here that I’m particularly interested in, but how they are doing it.

In a statement to Cosmopolitan it revealed that it’s not actually photographing each model wearing each dress, which presumably would have been both time and cost prohibitive. Instead, it’s using augmented reality (AR) to replicate the process. I’m sure everyone with an interest in fashion tech has seen their fair share of clunky AR virtual clothes try-on examples over the last few years, but this actually looks very real, which is a credit to how much the technology has developed.

AR has certainly now moved from being a technology with huge potential to something that can deliver results in the here and now. And this execution is a great example of how brands are starting to use AR to solve problems and to bring clear benefits to their customers.


The maturation of AR

ASOS isn’t the only brand leveraging the developing power of AR.

Recent advances in augmented reality, most significantly ARKit, which was part of Apple’s iOS 11 update in September last year, have enhanced brands’ abilities to transcend the digital/physical divide and to furnish customers with contextual information that can make or break a sale.

Ikea Place

Both Amazon and Ikea have launched new AR-backed apps using this technology that allows customers to virtually see how thousands of products will fit in their homes.

Michael Valdsgaard, the leader of digital transformation at Ikea, said the Ikea Place app will “change how we shop,” while a press release from Amazon says its AR View will help “customers make better shopping decisions.”

Amazon AR View

It’s not only major established players using AR as a useful path to purchase, though. Boxed is an ecommerce retailer that sells bulk items. Realising the sheer size of some of its items may be a barrier to purchase for urban customers with smaller homes, it has released an AR feature within its app that allows customers to virtually see if they have space for each box it sells.

Bringing AR into the physical retail environment, meanwhile, Kabaq allows restaurant customers to virtually see what their meals will look like before ordering.

Each of these brands is using AR to arm customers with an additional layer of knowledge and context at a key moment to banish any doubt and guide them towards purchase.


Giving customers more

Different, but equally interesting and useful, use cases for AR are also staring to emerge.

Earlier this month eBay introduced an augmented reality feature to its Android app that helps its sellers decide what size box to ship their items in. App users simply point their phones at any item and an augmented reality box will appear around it. They can flick between standard box sizes and move their camera around to see how well each one fits the item. It may solve a relatively trivial problem, but it’s a seamless and simple solution.

Starbucks Shanghai

In China, Starbucks and Maserati are both partnering with Alibaba to use the technology to enhance their physical store locations. In the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, customers can use an AR-backed app to scan different locations and find out additional information about the brand’s roasting processes. Using the same technology, visitors to Maserati’s “smart” showrooms can scan different parts of the luxury brand’s latest models to find out about spec and features.


Solving fundamental issues

While I’d personally file the three executions above as “nice added extras”, we’re also starting to see brands using AR to address some fairly fundamental retail questions.

Driving footfall is one of the perennial challenges of any physical retailer. New York fashion brand Kate Spade drove customers to its new boutique in Paris by creating an augmented reality experience that turned the French capital into a branded playground. My Little Paris Tapage guides users through the city with virtual surprises along the way. Flamingos in the river Seine and yellow cabs in the street can be viewed using augmented reality, before users end up at the brand’s flagship on Rue Saint-Honoré.

Kate Spade

Nike in Brazil, on the other hand, is using AR to encourage repeat purchases. When customers buy a pair of its sneakers online a special augmented reality marker poster arrives with their purchase. When they stand on the poster and look at their feet through the Instant Go feature on the Nike app, they can virtually see what the brand’s new Epic React shoes will look like on them and can click to buy.

Given that all of the examples I mention here are from the last six months and that the capabilities and use cases for AR are still developing at a very rapid pace, it’s fair to assume that these executions are just the tip of the iceberg. It will be fascinating to see how the technology will enhance consumer touchpoints and streamline backend logistics in the months and years ahead.

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