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Making AR and VR part of the customer experience

Part of the reason why technologies that are ’emerging’ progress so quickly is the way that businesses focus on new technologies for the purposes of competitive advantage. Thank goodness they do, because a business’s natural pursuit of profit is what can take VR and AR technology — both hardware and software — to the next level of maturation. 

Now, let us learn to apply it within the context of the customer experience. 

The very nature of AR enhancements and VR environments can make an impact in various situations as part of the customer experience. Their potential use spans various touch points and, together, interaction to interaction, builds an experience of an environment — which is a stand-in for the brand.

Immersion — Enhancing customer experience

The experiential environment should be immersive. This is, of course, part and parcel of virtual reality environments that encapsulate the user in its entirety. 

But augmented reality is all about enhancing the experience of a real-world environment by offering up more information or a sensorial experience of, let’s say, a product within a real-world environment. 

American Express’ initiative of a shoppable AR feature is the perfect example of immersive customer experiences that enhance purchases. At Coachella, the annual music and arts festival in California, Amex, via AR, allowed cardholders access to merchandise using Coachella’s own official app and camera anywhere on the grounds. 

This is a form of experiential marketing that helps customers make two specific connections: One, that AmEx is the purveyor of a heightened experience. Secondly, AmEx customers have access to opportunities that regular cardholders simply do not. 

These memorable AR experiences are also prime marketing moments on social media, bringing the financial and credit card brand organic traffic. 

Leveraging Emotion

Immersion is directly related to emotions. The truth is that our buying decisions are far from rational. Rationales and justifications are the logical reasonings we give for our entirely emotional decisions. Your AR and VR environments relating to your customer experience should be designed to elicit an emotional reaction. 

The New York Times’ VR app, for example, ‘enhances stories where time and place is key, putting the reader alongside journalists at the front lines’. In 2015, the news outlet behemoth decided to launch a VR film about three children displaced by war in order to allow viewers to ‘experience what it’s like to be inside a refugee camp, from the viewpoint of those affected.’

The resulting positive experience of readers — essentially the customers of the Times — fueled further interest in VR stories and subscriptions. 

Because of the use of augmented or virtual reality environments, companies can create truly imaginative experiences that encourage an emotional connection to the product or service. They also give the customer easy access to information about the product or service.

Demonstration — Supporting the online shopping experience

To allow customers to benefit from the ‘try before you buy’ aspect that VR and AR afford consumers, IKEA worked together with Apple’s ARkit unveiling. They created an app on the platform that would allow customers to virtually ‘place’ furniture around their homes. 

Together with ARkit, IKEA’s app was able to scale and place products in real-world settings with a 98% accuracy point. For the customer, this is invaluable. They can skip the whole ‘at home measurement process’ and try things right away. 

This also empowers them to make faster and more knowledgeable purchase decisions — with less of a chance of returns due to miscalculated size or orientation. 

Michael Valdsgaard, director of the Digital Transformation department at IKEA Systems says of the initiative, ‘Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game changer for retail in the same way as the internet. Only this time, much faster.’

Integration — Creating educational moments

Another great way to enhance the customer experience using AR and VR is to integrate it into the everyday. That’s just what Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple did at the Steve Jobs Theatre in September 2017. In conjunction with the MLB — ‘Major League Baseball’ — association, Schiller and Apple decided to create an ‘At Bat’ app, which uses AR functionality to allow fans and audiences to learn more about players in real time, simply through their own devices. 

Using Statcast, MLB’s own analytics tool, the app delivered detailed stats on each player’s past and current performances. The trick, of course, was to provide just the right amount of data to create a story that would engage but not overwhelm ‘regular’ game-watchers while still keeping die-hard fans enthusiastic and involved. 

The most important function of VR and AR in customer experience is to provide a healthy middle-ground for customer experiences, taking them from a case of ‘either physical or digital’ to ‘both physical and online’. 

Augmented reality, in particular, can serve a potential customer well when they’re trying to shop for products online and they want to ‘try’ them out before buying. Meanwhile, virtual reality can allow in-store shoppers to experience the product. Big brands are already taking advantage of AR and VR, and are developing more creative ways to elevate this technology from novel to necessary.

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