When people hear about the metaverse, many of them envision technology that’s years or even decades away. But they would be wrong — it’s already here.
“I think when people hear about augmented reality and the metaverse, it feels so futuristic and far away,” Ali Fazal, vice president of marketing for creator management platform Grin, told Modern Shipper. “But really, these are concepts that we’ve been seeing slowly integrated into modern-day brand commerce for the past couple of years.”
In the future, the metaverse might enable us to send virtual avatars of ourselves to work or digitally tour houses without leaving our own. But for now, Fazal’s company Grin is at the forefront of one of the earliest iterations of metaverse technology: augmented shopping. Augmented shopping uses augmented reality (AR) technology to digitally recreate products in the customers’ homes, in their offices or even on their bodies, and it’s already being used by some familiar brands, from Walmart (NYSE: WMT) to Ikea.
For consumers in the age of the e-commerce explosion and the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping is no longer as simple as reading reviews.
“They want to see people talking about [products] in real time, they want to be able to ask questions,” Fazal explained.
But he wants to take things a step further. Fazal and Grin enable brands to offer their customers virtual recreations of products that they can interact with in real time from the convenience of their homes.
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Take for example one of Grin’s clients, Warby Parker (NYSE: WRBY). The eyewear retailer has a large online presence and is using AR to allow shoppers to digitally “try on” pairs of eyeglasses or sunglasses without having to visit a physical store. Other brands that sell apparel like shirts or shoes also stand to benefit greatly from augmented shopping, which can enable retailers to create virtual fitting rooms.
But according to Fazal, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly to apparel, cosmetics and beauty products are another area in which augmented shopping can elevate the shopping experience by digitally recreating products on the customer’s person.
“Things like lip colors and eye shadow colors and things like that,” Fazal explained. “The ability to try stuff on virtually, and see how it looks on different skin tones, see how it might look in different lighting settings, I think is super useful for consumers.”
Other Grin clients use augmented shopping to sell furniture and home goods, zapping life-sized digital recreations of furniture or appliances straight into the shopper’s home, office, classroom or wherever else. That allows customers to get a feel for how products will fit into their space before they make a purchase.
Augmented shopping is even catching on in the automobile industry, where it’s being used by automakers to create virtual showrooms. Take for example BMW (OCTUS: BMWYY), which created an AR visualizer that put a life-sized digital car in the customer’s garage.
Opportunity abounds for retailers to take advantage of augmented shopping. For one, it allows brands to drive e-commerce sales of products that typically lend themselves better to in-person sales, like apparel or cosmetics.
“It gives people a chance to sell products online that they ordinarily wouldn’t,” Fazal said. “It also opens up brands to whole new demographics of people that they maybe would have been unable to reach before.”
According to Deloitte, there are more than 1 billion smartphones and tablets that can provide augmented reality experiences to shoppers — that’s 1 billion more potential customers that a brand can reach with an AR showroom, fitting room or other shopping experience. And those customers no longer need to be in the vicinity of a physical store to be reached.
That’s especially convenient at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and the emerging omicron variant are forcing many shoppers to stay home because they are either unable or unwilling to risk infection. With augmented shopping, retailers can still give shoppers that in-store experience, even if they aren’t in store.
“In-person shopping is unpredictable right now, depending on your geographic location. And so I think brands that really go out of their way to meet customers in the middle will be successful here,” Fazal said.
The next phase of e-commerce
Already, several major brands have adopted augmented shopping technology or a variation of it. For example, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has been using live shopping programs to drive real-time interaction between shoppers and products.
“Amazon this holiday season has been focusing a lot on live shopping and on their live streaming program,” Fazal told Modern Shipper. “I think what that speaks to is that modern consumers, particularly post-pandemic, need a little bit of that additional social proof and that little bit of an extra push to feel comfortable making a purchase.”
Walmart is another company getting in on augmented shopping. The world’s largest retailer has experimented with AR technology in several of its brick-and-mortar stores, using it to create new features like interactive signage. Still though, Fazal believes that augmented shopping’s biggest opportunity is to facilitate online sales.
“Augmented reality fits right within that landscape of giving customers that additional bit of personalization that they need to feel comfortable moving forward with purchasing a product online that they have not seen in person,” he explained.
And it’s only a matter of time before more retailers catch on.