Augmented Reality in Retail: Our Comprehensive Guide

Discover how augmented reality is transforming retail with examples from leading companies and insights from industry experts.

Augmented reality (AR) is quickly becoming indispensable in brick-and-mortar and online retail.

Studies show that 61% of shoppers prefer retailers that offer AR experiences, and 71% say they would shop more often if AR were available. These stats speak volumes—your customers are craving AR, and with the right approach, you could see your online sales soar by up to 200%.

Besides customer-facing applications, AR can also help you streamline employee training and enhance performance significantly. 

But it’s natural to be cautious about introducing new, disruptive tech. So, in this ArborXR guide, we’ll be giving you a comprehensive overview of augmented reality in retail—including definitions, use cases, benefits, and more.

What Is AR in Retail?

Before we dive in, a quick refresher.

Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital elements onto the physical world. Cameras take in the physical environment, special processors analyze the camera’s feed for points of interest, and then the camera feed is merged with computer-generated images on the screen.

So, how does this fit into retail? The possibilities are endless, but here are a few especially promising use cases:

  • Employee Training: You can use AR content to create training content that engages staff more effectively than slideshows and lectures. From practicing customer interactions to learning protocols, there are all kinds of applications here.

  • Product Visualization: Case in point—IKEA Kreativ. Using LiDAR technology in phones, IKEA Kreativ lets customers scan their room and virtually place furniture to see how it looks before they buy.

  • Virtual Try-Ons: Amazon uses AR technology to simulate the try-on experience. You use your phone’s camera and screen to see how items like shirts and shoes look on your body from different angles.

  • In-Store Navigation: Marks & Spencer’s List & Go App allows shoppers to navigate stores. Customers create a shopping list, and the app uses AR to show them exactly where each item is located on the shelf. It even highlights promotions for them.

What Are the Benefits of AR in Retail?

Improved Training Outcomes

With AR in retail training, you can potentially slash training time by 40% and help employees reach proficiency 4X faster than traditional methods. And these impressive results come at a fraction of the cost of traditional training. 

Boosted Sales and Reduced Returns:

AR allows customers to see how products will look and function in context. This is a powerful conversion-boosting tool that can drive a significant improvement in sales. Plus, increased buyer confidence means less revenue is lost to returns and exchanges.

Increased Customer Engagement

On a more fundamental level, high-quality AR experiences are great for grabbing (and holding) attention. While AR technology is increasing in popularity, it’s far from common. That means being an early adopter is a powerful way to differentiate yourself.

How to Implement Augmented Reality in Retail

1. Define Clear Objectives and Use Cases

Start by outlining exactly what you aim to achieve with AR. This could range from enhancing customer engagement, increasing online and in-store sales, improving employee training, or streamlining warehouse operations.

Then, based on your objectives, pinpoint specific use cases. Let’s take employee training, for example. This is a good start, but you need to pinpoint the exact type of training you want—maybe training employees on new equipment, optimizing warehouse management, or assisting in complex assembly processes.​  

Be sure to collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure the AR initiative aligns with broader business strategies and customer expectations. This includes getting input from marketing, IT, sales, and HR departments.

2. Choose the Right AR Technology

The next step is to identify the type of AR technology that would best fit your use case. 

The most popular options available are: 

  • Marker-Based AR: Uses physical markers (e.g., QR codes) to trigger specific product information or promotions (e.g., scan a QR code on a product’s packaging to see a 3D model).
  • Markerless AR: Leverages GPS, accelerometers, or cameras to overlay AR content without needing a marker. This is great for location-based experiences or product visualization in real-world environments (e.g., use your phone’s camera to see how furniture looks in your living room).
  • Projection-Based AR: Projects digital images onto physical surfaces. This is perfect for interactive displays or highlighting physical products.
  • Superimposition-Based AR: This replaces a view with an augmented version. It can be marker-based or markerless (e.g., virtually trying on makeup with your phone’s camera).

Once you’ve settled this, determine what hardware you’ll need, such as smartphones, tablets, AR glasses, or specialized AR headsets. For example, using AR glasses like Magic Leap 2 might benefit employee training, while customer applications might rely on mobile devices. If you plan to invest in AR headsets or glasses, you’ll need a way to manage them. That’s where AR device management (MDM) platforms like ArborXR come in.

We give you full control over all your AR headsets, no matter how big your fleet is. You can deploy content at scale, control what users see and do with the headsets, shut down devices, track their locations, and restrict usage—all from a single, easy-to-use interface.

3. Develop or Source AR Content

Now, it’s time to develop engaging and high-quality AR content. This includes apps, 3D models, animations, interactive elements, and relevant information overlays. 

To do this yourself, you’d have to choose a platform or development toolkit that fits your needs—such as ARKit (for iOS), ARCore (for Android), or cross-platform tools like Unity and Vuforia. Consider the ease of integration, scalability, and support for the specific AR type you plan to use​

However, opting for specialized AR developers is a more stress-free alternative. You can partner with them to develop your custom AR content from scratch or choose pre-made ones.

You can use our enterprise XR directory to find trusted third-party developers. 

4. Conduct a Pilot Test 

Introducing new technology can be touch-and-go. By running a pilot test, you can catch issues early on and stop them from becoming massive, costly disasters down the line. Plus, these tests act as a proof of concept for your AR project.

How can you conduct a pilot test? Here are some steps to follow: 

  • Define Objectives: Set clear, measurable goals aligned with business objectives.
  • Select Users: Choose a diverse group of customers and employees representing different demographics, roles, and experience levels.
  • Deploy AR Application: Launch in a limited, controlled setting while monitoring usage and performance closely.
  • Analyze Data and Refine: Collect and analyze feedback, make necessary adjustments, and prepare a comprehensive report for stakeholders.

Implementing Augmented Reality in Retail with ArborXR

Augmented reality (AR) in retail is here to stay. Whether it’s virtual try-ons for customers or employee training behind the scenes, the possibilities are endless and the results are impressive.

Considering a retail AR initiative? 

Plus, if you’re considering investing in AR headsets, managing them doesn’t have to be a headache. With ArborXR, you can effortlessly control all your devices, no matter how many you have.tReady to manage your AR fleet effectively? You can start with a 30-day free trial today

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