It's the stuff of dreams. You whip out your smart device, point it at thin air and a hyper-realistic recreation of a product appears before your very eyes.
Slowly but surely this consumer-centric dream world is coming to life now that technology has progressed far enough to allow for augmented reality to become more than an expensive pipe dream.
Whether it's Ikea's home furnishing app which lets you place to-scale models of their popular products right into your living room, or STM Brands' new fully-rendered augmented reality (AR) backpack models, AR is changing the retail game, and giving consumers more of a reason to return to physical stores.
STM Brands' latest creation is in the world of AR and is giving consumers an entirely new way to explore the company's backpacks and mobile phone cases.
Using computer-generated video and graphics to enhance a real-world setting, the AR creates an interactive user experience that goes beyond just seeing how something might fit.
The application allows consumers to "try-on" bags, helping them determine which bag they'd like to purchase based on the look, size, colour, and design of the bag.
The app also allows users to take a closer look at the 'ins and outs' of the product. While it's still somewhat of a novelty for consumers, STM Brands CEO Ethan Nyholm says the technology will change the way we shop forever.
"Backpacks have traditionally been one of the toughest products to showcase in stores, unless a trained salesperson is there to demonstrate the special aspects of the merchandise which is typically not the case," says Nyholm.
"Now, thanks to AR, individual customers can see a demonstration of a product's key features come to life before their eyes."
Still in its infancy, AR is a technology that is going to change the way we interact with the world, not just stores. But for now, Nyholm believes it is a way to get shoppers back into a store - to get back to what makes shopping so exciting; the consumer experience.
"It's taking point-of-sale product marketing to another level," says Nyholm.
"We are leveraging today's technology to go beyond what's long been the expected in store. It's the future of marketing."
Business News Australia spoke to Nyholm about the group's latest AR experiments, the future of retail experiences, and how companies struggling in the current Australian retail environment can bounce back and win the hearts and wallets of their customers.
AR is still in its infancy, but where do you see the technology in a few years?
I truly believe that AR will truly revolutionise in-store retail. I think that it has the potential to allow people to create a better experience, not to necessarily replicate a similar experience that they're getting online. I think it really has the potential to change how people view retail.
What kind of applications does AR have right now?
At the moment what we're doing is providing people with a lot more in-depth information about our product and what makes it special and unique. It allows them to do quirky things like try it on or see what it looks like on a person. People seem a lot more comfortable with interacting with the technologies, it's much less threatening it seems for them to interact with the technology and then move onto the product, so that's what we're looking to use it for. I think it also has the potential to help sales people in store understand their products.
Is it just for backpacks right now? Are there plans to use the tech elsewhere?
We use it for Element Case as well. We're starting to add more and we're going to extend across the range slowly. We have a new range launching later in the year that we'll launch with the AR experience as part of it. We're starting to use it with some of our cases - what will happen with the case is you'll trigger it off the packaging so you don't even need to open the box and you can experience the product - it'll be really cool. It's almost like an Ironman sort of environment where the whole box just opens up with a whole mechanism and the case comes out at you - it's really cool. Again, the idea is to help people interact with the product in a very unthreatening manner and hopefully from there transition to interacting with the product itself.
Ethan Nyholm, CEO of STM Brands
A lot of Australian retailers are bemoaning the state of Australian retail right now, do you think that's valid?
They're doing it globally - it's a global phenomenon. That's in part because there's not an experience anymore - but people want to experience! They want to go in there and see something different. Hopefully we're able to deliver something different.
Do you think that Australian retailers need to experiment more?
I think that it's hard to experiment. Experimenting costs a lot of money. But they have to try more things and try to use technology to create those experiences, to create that depth of information, to create a different dynamic in store.
Do you think that virtual reality will become another popular retail experience the way AR seems to be going?
The reason I like augmented reality is that it superimposes itself in a real world environment. In virtual reality you have to be completely immersed. I think that's a more difficult experience to interject in the physical store.
What are some other exciting technologies that retailers should be looking out for?
The other things that are really neat and we're starting to see in museums is internal space tracking where you can basically within a store or within a museum it'll guide you almost to where you want to go. So we're trying to marry some location information to the augmented reality that'll allow a better experience - a better shopping experience.
Business News Australia
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