How Augmented Reality will drive South African Retailers Customer Engagement

Many people don’t know what the technology is and what it can do, we’ve seen it in the Iron Man and to a point it looks futuristic and intangible. The truth is it’s not just used in movies or gaming entertainment.  

What is Augmented Reality? 

Globally Augmented Reality (AR) is rapidly growing in popularity, simply because it brings elements of a virtual world, into out REAL world. Therefore, it has the capability to enhance things we see, hear and touch.

To sum-up augmented reality in a single definition: It lives in the middle of our mixed reality spectrum; between our REAL world and our virtual world.

Where are we heading?

AR technology is the result of our ongoing digital revolution which is now touching almost every aspect of our life. Smartphones are one of the biggest examples of our digital revolution. Retailers are seeing the impact e-commerce stores are having on their physical stores. Yet Yuppie Chef which started out as a full e-commerce store, have now opened physical stores. Simply so consumers can see and touch something tangible. If Yuppie Chef started using AR technology, they may well have not required physical outlets? Makes you think?

Shopping centre trends

Retailers owning physical outlets are seeing the disruption created by online shopping outlets have on public shopping places. A few years back, the same public shopping places were visited by large crowds to explore different products. Today the numbers of feet in-store are diminishing; therefore, many physical outlets show revenue declines or flat growth figures. If you are a franchisor, you have the added pressure to perform.

Even though South Africa has had a poor and uncertain economic climate recently, consumers still need to shop. It’s not that people can afford not to shop either. They are still buying, but now more people buy online, and they just buy less and more frequently, replenishing only what they need in a ‘just in time’ model. More and more people are showing interest in shopping online in comparison to visiting physical stores.

There are 3 factors contributing to this trend are:

  1. Reduced retailer / consumer interactivity.

  2. Limited shopper engagement. (where did customer service go?)

  3. Long queues at checkout counters.

Where is Augmented Reality working well for global retailers?

Superimposition Based Augmented Reality

Superimposition based augmented reality, partially or fully replaces the original view of an object with a newly augmented view of that same object. Superimposition based augmented reality, object recognition plays a vital role because the application cannot replace the original view with an augmented one if it cannot determine what the object is.

A strong consumer-facing example of superimposition based augmented reality is found in the Ikea augmented reality furniture catalogue. By downloading an app and scanning selected pages in their printed or digital catalogue, users can place virtual Ikea furniture in their own home with the help of augmented reality.

Where could superimposition augmented reality work in South Africa?

In my opinion all e-commerce outlets could use this technology effectively to create a truly interactive shopping experience. Imagine shopping for furniture and placing it in your environment? Think of Loads of Living, Mr Price Home, Woolworths, Checkers House and Home, Cielo online furniture store and the list goes on and on.

I would love to see Builders Warehouse adopt this technology for their decorative curtaining and blinds, built-in cupboards, flooring, paint and even their windows and doors. These are all big-ticket item purchases which require the consumer to research;  really picking their brain on which style and colour is best suited for their home or business.

IKEA furniture in your home with Augmented Reality


Projection based Augmented Reality will be the go-to-market tech for South African big box retailers

What is Projection Based Augmented Reality?

This has two applications and works by projecting artificial light onto real world surfaces. Projection based augmented reality applications allow for human interaction by sending light onto a real-world surface and then sensing the human interaction (i.e. touch) of that projected light.

  1. Detecting the user’s interaction is done by differentiating between an expected (or known) projection and the altered projection (caused by the user’s interaction).

  2. An interesting application of projection based augmented reality utilises laser plasma technology to project a three-dimensional (3D) interactive hologram into mid-air. As in what we have seen as a visual in the Iron Man movies. Since it is light, you need a slightly darker space.

Why should South African Retailers and wholesalers use this technology?

Here’s the retailing issues and limitations we experience in mass retailers, hardware retailers and specialty retailers in South Africa.

  • Lack of knowledgeable staff.

  • Lack of staff availability. (when you need them)

  • Poor merchandising standards.

  • Sealed packaging with little information communicated.

  • Lack of sufficient technical information at the point of purchase.

  • Insufficient display space for bulky and technical products and associated models.

Albeit in my lifetime in marketing, I have come up with innovative retail point of sale solutions to help consumers make informed buying decisions, displaying the product as a ‘silent salesman’ and while I have seen great wins take place in the solutions I’ve provided, I feel we are on the cusp of seeing real change with the progression of AR technology.

AR technology has the ability to address all the above issues in one easy to use solution. Let me explain –

At Builders Warehouse (my favorite store) we see a large isle with header boards above the products, describing the categories and power wings for further advice and technical information about the product category in front of you. Sometimes we see a few small screens playing a looped video or a catalogue laying around, branded shelf strips and hanging cards.

Now imagine having a header board describing the product categories, and underneath a darkish, (So AR shines bright ) futuristic box shape running across the aisle. Here a scaled 3D product view is displayed, you can flip it around and read the callout features of the product itself.

Or a graphic of the product being unpacked, showing us what’s inside, available accessories, how to apply the product, how to assemble. Also different colour options which will reduce the need to display a large range of products.

All knowledge is transferred to the consumer at the point of purchase, therefore consumers are making an informed purchase from a ‘knowledgeable AI salesman – AR’.  We can’t leave out the opportunity of legally reducing the consumer protection act law suits and purchasing products which may not be what you actually need it for. The only time a consumer in the future will need an in-store sales person, would be to help carry a large and heavy item to the checkout counter!

The benefits a wholesaler will immediately enjoy:

  1. Reduced customer return rates.

  2. Break language barriers.

  3. Increased sales on premium products – Providing upsell opportunities!

  4. Knowledge transfer to make informed purchases.

  5. Minimise the Consumer Protection Act.

  6. Enhance Point of sale and visual display communication.

  7. Improve brand loyalty.

The benefits a retailer will enjoy:

  1. Increased store visitors

  2. Increased consumer trust.

  3. Better use of retail space to display complex solution.

  4. Creating a unique customer experience.

  5. Break language barriers.

  6. Create interactive gamification.

  7. Putting excitement and simplicity back into big ticket item purchases.

  8. Being seen as an authority on a wide product category, like - Lighting, plumbing, electrical, windows and doors, paint, gardening, irrigation, flooring, roofing, built in cupboards, appliances and the list goes on….

Looking at the future of retail

Imagine walking down an aisle in the near future and a projected image appears on the floor saying ‘What are you looking for? ‘ You stand on directional or information icon and it lights up a path to that special product you are looking for.

This is already in action as directional way finding on your smartphone which guides you through the retailer’s space. We just need to take this a step further.

We’re nearly there, all it will take is ingenuity and a better relationship between the wholesaler and retailer to pull it off.

Wrapping up

Augmented Reality has already got the desired pace. Retailers know how they can deliver a better experience to keep attracting customers into their physical and e-commerce outlets.

Here’s LIGHTFORM , they have designed an easy to use AR projector kit priced from $699,00 and have already created these solutions:

  • Outdoor retail displays.

  • Projected AR Bars.

  • Projected AR wedding cakes.

  • Way finding technology.

  • Projected menu boards.

As the technology progresses, we will see a reduction in investment costs which in turn should make it a far more attractive proposition for us to implement.

If you pay hefty rebates, look into your advanced advertising spend allocation, you may very well find you can write off 4% – 6% of your initial investment to your AAS account. But you need to sell the exclusivity and benefits generated to both the retailer and wholesaler concerned.

Marketing Managers I urge you to follow AR technology closely, you will know when it is time to introduce AR into your retail market. As marketers we need to push our known boundaries and use technology to simplify and create differentiation.

We are only limited by our imagination and obsession to make our retail experiences truly unique.
— Dylan Miller