There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered people’s shopping habits. According to IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index report, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years. TechCrunch called AR “the answer to plummeting retail sales during the lockdown.” 

With consumers adapting to the “new normal” in myriad ways, retailers have sought innovative and agile solutions to accommodate the surge in online shopping. The trend toward digital has accelerated in recent months. And the digital experiences that brands are building will continue to evolve well after the pandemic is behind us. 

One increasingly popular digital experience is augmented reality. Curbside pickup is expedient but seeing exactly how a sofa will look inside your home before you make a purchase is a whole new level of convenience. These “try-before-you-buy” solutions mirror the authentic, personalized experiences traditionally associated with in-store shopping. And a virtual format reduces the risks associated with an inventory-based try before you buy: higher return rates, tighter margins, and major logistical hassles.

But what does a successful augmented reality experience look like? And how can agile, innovative retailers be at the forefront of this innovative technology? 

 

Defining Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is an interactive experience that combines a real-life environment with computer-generated information. Unlike virtual reality, which immerses people into an entirely computer-generated world, augmented reality enhances ordinary life as we know it. 

 

Innovative AR Shopping Experiences

Thousands of retailers have already tapped into the potential of augmented reality. Here are a few of the earliest adopters—brands that have been on the cutting edge of this technology for some time: 

  • Warby Parker. You’re probably familiar with Warby Parker’s Home Try-On Program, but did you know that the eyewear giant offers Virtual Try-On as well? Using Apple’s Face ID feature, users can place virtual glasses on their face and see a live, 3D preview before purchasing. Download the app.


  • Ulta Beauty. Make-up brands typically feature models with a variety of skin colors to guide online shoppers in selecting the right colors and tones. Ulta goes a step further with its GlamLab app, which allows customers to test products virtually on their own face. Download the app.

 

  • IKEA. What better place to shop for furniture than the comfort of your own home? IKEA’s augmented reality experience enables shoppers to drag and drop selected products directly into their space. Download the app.

 

  • Dulux. See how more than 1,200 paint colors would look on your walls. This company has solved the age-old problem of trying to visualize a tiny square color sample expanded to cover a room. Download the app.

 

How Retailers Can Stay Ahead of the Curve on Augmented Reality

If your brand isn’t ready to incorporate augmented reality into its digital strategy, there’s no need to panic. Being an early adopter isn’t always financially feasible, especially for startups and boutique retailers. But there are still ways to stay ahead of the curve on augmented reality—and other up and coming technologies. 

 

A No Surprises approach will help you plan ahead and set realistic expectations: 

  • Keep augmented reality on your radar. Add augmented reality to your product roadmap. If you’re not ready to define a specific time frame, put it in the parking lot. If you don’t have a roadmap with a parking lot, you should create one. 
  • Start the conversation. Is anyone else in your company thinking about augmented reality? Starting the conversation with colleagues provides value by getting everyone thinking about innovative possibilities. 
  • Stay connected and inspired. Identify retailers that are providing successful augmented reality experiences, download their apps, and follow them on social media.
  • Always be learning. Stay up to date on new approaches and solutions. Check out our Retail Resources for Retail Webinars and Retail Podcasts on this cutting-edge topic.
  • Talk to an expert. At Sophelle, it’s our job to stay up to date on the latest retail technology, trends, and solutions. We have relationships with many solutions providers, including startups at the forefront of new innovations.


Retail technology is constantly evolving, challenging brands to embrace agility and innovation. Our experts are happy to talk with you about augmented reality and other innovations that might be a good fit for your business. Contact us today to learn how we can help your brand implement compelling experiences in stores, online, and throughout the customer journey.