Augmented Reality (AR) in retail customer service – and the new hyper-connected contact center

Posted July 6, 2016 

Imagine walking past your favorite retail outlet and receiving a notification on your smartphone with a coupon enticing you to come inside. A tap or swipe later and a previously unseen dimension of the store suddenly unfolds, all on your mobile device.

Point your smartphone at the window and the mannequins spring to life on your screen, modeling the latest fashions. Or, scan a pair of shoes to reveal similar styles, prices and customer reviews. Welcome to the emerging new world of the digital customer experience in retail.

Many retailers are reinventing the customer experience using a concept known as augmented reality (AR). AR is a mesh of the real-world environment and computer-generated content that is designed to enhance the physical experience. It may include interactive displays, multimedia components or virtual reality. It’s emerging as the next big thing in retail with Digi-Capital forecasting that the market for AR may reach $120 billion by 2020.

Below are just a few of the ways AR is being utilized in retail to enhance the customer experience, and how the contact center can further enhance this new world of retail.

The virtual dressing room

Apparel retail adviser, Alerttech, estimates that a shopper who enters a dressing room is almost seven times more likely to make a purchase than those who just stroll through the sales floor.

To capitalize on the opportunity, Zugara, the augmented and virtual reality specialist, offers an in-store virtual dressing room based on Microsoft’s Kinect technology. Customers can try on an outfit, then virtually manipulate its colors and patterns with gestures in a “magic mirror.” The digital display simulates desired changes while the customer interacts with the virtual item.

Sephora, the beauty retailer, utilizes a similar try-before-you buy strategy in its Milan store with an AR-enabled makeup mirror. The mirror can simulate cosmetics on the customer’s face in real-time and in 3D. Their latest app update features a similar concept, allowing users to upload a selfie and apply different lipstick colors to the image. Once they settle on a color they like, they can purchase the lipstick directly through the app.

The time-saving benefits to the retail customer are hard to overstate. Thanks to AR equipped dressing rooms and mirrors, trying on multiple outfits or different styles of makeup only requires a flick of the wrist. It also has substantial benefits for the retailer, creating an inventory that is infinite in size without requiring a backroom or sales floor of scale.

A ‘smarter’ store

In order to gain a better understanding of their customers, retailers are going to great lengths to track their customers’ interactions throughout the conversion funnel — with the help of AR.

Pioneering clothing retailers are embedding Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in hangers or price tags to measure customer interactions with these items. For example, when you take a garment off a rack, the software running the store may activate the nearest digital display to show you details about the item and recommend suitable accessories. The technology is currently being used by New Balance in their flagship store in Boston. When a customer picks up a running shoe from the display wall for closer examination, product details and information is automatically displayed on the in-store screens.

Similarly, some retailers embed sensors in the floor to activate digital automation. Scanalytics Inc. uses floor-sensor technology to activate digital screens when a customer has been standing in a specific location within given time period. The additional information provides that extra encouragement for those customers who might be on the fence about making a purchase. The same technology can also be utilized to measure customer engagement in key areas of the store.

Augmented reality can be as sophisticated as embedded sensors or as simple as a bar code. While leaving off a price tag may seem counter intuitive when aiming to provide a smooth and convenient customer experience, Amazon has been doing just that in their first physical bookstore in Seattle. Customers are required to use the mobile app or in-store kiosks to scan the barcode to reveal product pricing and online reviews. This method not only provides the consumer with more detailed information, but also gives Amazon more in-depth data on the conversion rate, providing a better sense of the products being looked at but abandoned before checkout and vice-versa.

Immersive and hyper-connected contact centers

Contact centers have the potential to eliminate a major pain point in this new world of retail experience: the lack of access to a product specialist. According to TimeTrade Systems, Inc., three out of four shoppers would book a personal appointment with a knowledgeable associate if given the chance, while 85 percent would buy more if helped by a knowledgeable associate.

Connecting the augmented reality experience with the contact center through mobile or web can allow a product specialist to provide live customer support remotely and in any location, including the customer’s home. At the same time, whenever software interfaces between customers and product specialists (as is the case when engaging a contact center as opposed to in-person consultations with a store associate), the retailer can collect precise metrics in order to gain a better understanding of the customer. Amazon has already put the idea to use on its tablets with great success. The Mayday button on a Kindle Fire calls up an Amazon rep to assist customers remotely.

Augmented reality is no longer limited to science fiction movies or novels. In its retail application, it is bridging the gap between traditional marketing and emerging digital channels, increasing customer conversions. It also allows retailers to capture more consumer data, which is critical to improving customers’ overall retail experience. And when integrated into the new retail experience, the contact center can help create an even more engaging experience for customers.


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