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How AR and VR Improve Customer Journey

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The whole world is going digital, and more and more people now prefer online shopping to the exhausting process of wandering through store aisles. Retailers need to keep up with this massive change in consumer behavior.

This is where advanced technology comes in: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in retail are at peak popularity, and in this article, we’ll look into why.

Table of contents:

AR/VR for Shopping: Market Overview

What is the Customer Journey in Shopping?

AR/VR for Marketing and Pre-Sale

AR/VR for Purchasing

AR/VR for Post-Sale Support

App’s Architecture and Tech Stack

Cost of Implementing AR and VR in Retail

Our Success Story

Stay tuned if you want to learn how to apply AR/VR for customer experience and enhance your brand-client relationship.

AR/VR for Shopping: Market Overview

Statistics reveal how popular AR/VR is for retail and shopping.

The numbers say that about 5% of the global AR/VR and mixed reality market will be in the retail sector by 2022. In 2021, 71% of consumers say they would shop more often if retailers used AR. AR apps give shoppers the ability to try on clothes virtually or see how furniture will look in their apartment without actually buying any products.

AR and VR technologies for shopping: market overview
AR and VR technologies for shopping: market overview

The user base for AR and VR software for retail in 2020 was around 9.5 million people worldwide. This number is expected to grow up to 31.5 million.

Investment in AR/VR technologies is growing. For example, in 2020 some $18.8 billion was spent on AR/VR, and the compound annual growth rate is expected to reach 77% by 2023.

Isn’t that impressive?

Now let’s discuss how exactly retailers use AR/VR for customer experience improvement. We’ll start from basics: what is the “customer journey” and why are all apps built around it?

Business Value of AR in Media & Entertainment

How do modern businesses use AR to increase their revenues and outperform their industry competitors?

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What is the Customer Journey in Shopping?

Whenever a customer purchases a particular product or service, the process becomes what is referred to as the customer journey.

It consists of 5 vital stages that the customer, ideally, is guided through by the seller:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Retention
  • Advocacy
Definition of a customer journey in shopping
Definition of a customer journey in shopping

These steps are part of the customer onboarding process, which helps customers choose, evaluate, and purchase products or services with ongoing support.

If carried out well, this has positive effects for the retailer:

  • Increase customer lifetime value
  • Cut sales funnel costs
  • Boost referral rates
  • Build positive relationships between a customer, brand, and product

The 5 steps of the customer journey can be divided into three categories of business activity:

  • Pre-sales
  • Purchasing
  • Post-sale support
How retail businesses can use the customer journey concept
How retail businesses can use the customer journey concept

We will review all three and determine how AR/VR can help businesses in each step.

AR/VR for Marketing and Pre-Sale

Pre-sales includes the first two stages of the customer journey: awareness and consideration. During these steps, the retailer has the opportunity to build a strong brand image and leave a positive impression.

With AR/VR solutions, retailers can remove uncertainties and provide more information about their products in a more enjoyable and interactive way. Let’s discuss them in detail.

AR/VR solutions for retail – custom development at your service

HQSoftware has a team of skilled professionals ready to tackle the project. Let’s talk!

Julia Tuskal
Head of Sales
at HQSoftware

‘Try before you buy’ and diminish uncertainties about the product

Customers typically have a hard time deciding whether to buy a particular item of furniture or home décor because it’s difficult to imagine how exactly they will look in their homes.

This explains why online furniture stores still aren’t so popular; customers still prefer to visit brick-and-mortar stores to see real products and visualize them in the room they are buying for.

AR/VR helps eliminate grey areas and lets customers make informed buying decisions.

With immersive solutions, customers can place the furniture item or any other object in a picture of a room and see whether it complements the home. AR apps are capable of showing full-scale, life-like models of furniture so that customers don’t even need to visit stores in person.

See how Ikea Place did this:

Learn more about products and trends

One of the strongest drivers for sales is trends and fashion. The more people buy particular products and show appreciation for a brand, the more new customers it attracts.

This is where markerless AR comes in handy. With this technology, brands and retailers can develop mobile apps that will scan products and show particular information about them that will help customers make a buying decision.

For example, Brazilian retailer C&A augmented its hangers. The hangers show how many likes the product got on Facebook. Upon pointing the camera at the hanger, the user sees a “Look online” button in Augmented Reality and can get more information on the product — for example, whether any of the user’s friends liked the item. They can even see how a virtual model rocks the look.

This AR solution helps the customer consider fashion trends or simply learn whether the product is popular among their friends and make a more data-wise buying decision.

AR/VR for Purchasing

This stage speaks for itself — when the customer is ready to make a buying decision they move to the Purchase stage of the customer journey. Here is what businesses can do to motivate customers to buy their products or services.

Virtual makeovers

Augmented Reality retail apps can help customers choose new looks and eliminate the guesswork. Want to know how a new hairstyle will look on you? Want to try a new makeup before an important event? Just use AR/VR solutions.

For example, Sephora offers an app that lets customers try a range of makeup before buying the product. The app utilizes a smartphone camera to recognize the shape and features of the customer’s face and overlay beauty products precisely.

Virtual makeovers for retail
Virtual makeovers for retail

With such apps, customers can color-match foundations and other products, choosing from a number of brands and colors without even visiting a store. After that, all they have to do is buy the right products and enjoy their perfect match.

Virtual dressing rooms

As for clothes and shoes, there are also apps that allow for trying on numerous outfits in a minute — Augmented Reality virtual dressing rooms, or the same applications built with VR.

For example, major retailers like Macy’s and Adidas put so-called magic mirror devices in their stores so that customers can try on items virtually via augmented fitting rooms.

Virtual dressing rooms for retail
Virtual dressing rooms for retail

Other apps are just installed on the smartphone and either create a 3D model out of the user’s photos to virtually put clothes on it, or overlay clothes in real-time when the smartphone’s camera is pointed at the user.

This reduces time spent looking for matching outfits and helps customers pick and purchase products easier and with less hesitation. Also, virtual dressing rooms seem to reduce product returns; after Macy’s introduced VR try-before-you-buy tools, the return rate dropped to 2% and lower.

Immersive retail

Traditional retail experiences are limited by available information tools, including in-store ads, printed copy, and similar materials.

But AR/VR solutions can elevate the retail experience game.

For example, while waiting for a drink in Starbucks, customers can scan AR markers to unlock fun visual experiences, read more about products, or even study the coffee roasting process. All done in a single Augmented Reality retail app!

Immersive retail solutions
Immersive retail solutions

Such details greatly enhance the customer experience and increase the chances that the customer will return.

 AR/VR for Post-Sale Support

Post-sale support includes relationships with clients who are in the Retention and Advocacy stages of the customer journey. Here are some options AR/VR solutions provide:

Support via self-service

Sometimes customers experience particular issues using the product. Often they try to resolve them by themselves, which suggests that businesses should provide customers with self-service support.

Issues that are easy to solve on-site are usually described in a business’s FAQ. This can be enhanced a great deal by introducing AR and creating immersive manuals and training, so that the user can see and know exactly what they have to do.

Technical support with AR visuals and user manuals

Will your customers save that bulky paper user manual after unpacking the product and using it? Quite possibly not. But these relics can be efficiently replaced by Augmented Reality retail apps.

For example, Mercedes Benz is an early adopter of AR manuals. The AR app allows new car owners how to understand every element of the car’s dashboard, using a smartphone or a tablet. The manual also includes some basic guides on how to do simple car repairs, check the oil, and so on.

AR manuals for customer support
AR manuals for customer support

Such AR solutions dramatically increase customer satisfaction and encourage buyers to spread the word about your products and services. 

To build an app for any of these purposes, businesses first need to learn the tech stack and application architecture of AR/VR solutions. Let’s get to it.

App’s Architecture and Tech Stack

We’ll review AR and VR apps separately, since these have many differences.

AR app architecture and tech stack

AR apps typically have 3 components:

  • A user application. This is the application the user interacts with, using its interface to get to the AR experience.
  • Hardware. The AR application is installed on some kind of hardware so that the user has some tool to trigger an AR experience. Typically it is a smartphone or AR glasses; sometimes it could be a magic mirror in a retail store.
  • Back-end of AR application. This is the brain of the AR app. All the processing power is stored here; it also contains a database of graphic content for the experience, AI/ML data analytics algorithms, and so on.

A typical AR app architecture could look like this:

AR app architecture
AR app architecture

The technical stack for an AR application may differ from app to app, depending on the hardware it runs on, software platform, industry requirements, and so on. So, we will describe a complete stack for AR apps:

Development frameworks / SDK Unity, Vuforia SDK, OpenGL, SceneKit, Wikitude SDK, ARToolKit, Catchoom SDK, Kudan SDK, EasyAR SDK, iOS/Android SDK, ARKit, ARCore, 8th Wall, AR.js
Platforms Android, iOS, Windows, macOS
Hardware AR-kiosks: point-of-sale devices, AR installations, magic mirrors, etc.
Glasses Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus Quest, Epson Moverio, Google Glass, Vuzix Blade, etc.

VR app architecture and tech stack

When it comes to VR apps, these have 3 common components as well:

  • A user application. This is the part of the system that the user interacts with. It contains the user interface and sends requests to a database server to load the contents of the experience.
  • Database server. This is a back-end part of the solution that stores all content for experiences, as well as user data and scenarios.
  • Web administration panel. This is an interface for the administrator of the app. Here, the administrator can alter scenarios or the experience content, and add, change, or remove assets.

See the visualization of all components here:

VR app architecture
VR app architecture

 Here’s a complete tech stack for VR apps:

Languages C++, C#, HTML, CSS, JS, Python, Go, Microsoft .NET
Cloud technologies Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud
Development frameworks / SDK Unity, Unreal Engine, Oculus SDK, GearVR SDK, iOS/Android SDK, WebVR, React VR, Google VR
Hardware Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard / Daydream, PlayStation VR, treadmills, haptic gloves

Technologies used, included features, and the overall complexity of the app architecture all have a great impact on the app’s final price. Let’s see how much it costs to add AR or VR to your retail system.

Cost of Implementing AR and VR in Retail

For any application, several factors affect development cost:

  • Team composition;
  • Number of features;
  • App architecture and its complexity;
  • Amount of content, and so on.
Factors that affect the cost of AR/VR development
Factors that affect the cost of AR/VR development

To make the calculation easier, we’ll take an average hourly developer rate of $35 — this is an average rate for developers from leading European IT companies like Estonia.

To build a complex AR app with, for example, several markers, social media sharing features, a content gallery, and a few extra features, it will take around 160 hours of development or more. Here we also need to add around 100 hours of business analysis, project management, 3D design, testing and quality assurance.

As a result, building such an app for retail businesses will cost around $46,000.

A VR application that demands a similar set of developers to build a well-thought-out retail experience, with content reviewed or created by a retail professional, will cost around $30,000.

How much does it cost to develop AR/VR apps?
How much does it cost to develop AR/VR apps?

Our success story

We have mastered all aspects of AR/VR solutions development and have a strong collection of successful projects under our belt.

Here are just some of them.

An AR platform for marketers and creatives

This platform is an easy-to-master AR solution that allows for building AR experiences. This platform is available to any user, even those who have no previous technical experience.

In this application, users can:

  • Add content for AR experiences: visuals, 3D models, buttons, sounds, etc.
  • Set up geolocation;
  • Personalize experiences;
  • Build both markerless and marker-based solutions;
  • See experience usage analytics; for example, button click ratio.

As a result, developers at HQSoftware have created a scalable and technology-agnostic platform with powerful marketing tools and advanced interoperability of all parts of the system: back-end, front-end, iOS and Android mobile apps, and third-party components.

A virtual fitting room for mobile devices

This application is a must-have for all retailers that want to go digital — a virtual fitting room.

This application allows any user with a smartphone or a tablet to take a set of photos of their body so that the PICTOFiT app can create a 3D model of this person. Then, the user can try clothes on this model virtually to see whether they fit.

Such applications reinvent e-commerce and give retailers an advanced tool to customize the shopping experience, lower return rates, increase customer loyalty, and even boost brand awareness.

Yuri Yarmolovich

AR/VR Expert

A developer with extensive expertise in AR/VR, very ingrained into the topic of Mixed Reality development. Shares his knowledge and the results of many years of work. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How are AR and VR reshaping the retail landscape?
Do you develop AR and VR retail solutions?
How much does it cost to develop a retail AR/VR app?

Read also

AR for the Retail Industry: How a Virtual Fitting Room Improves Sales and Customer Retention

How Much Does It Cost to Develop an AR App?

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality: Getting to Know Them

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