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The game-changing tech for retail customer experience
Business transformation

The game-changing tech for retail customer experience

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March 28, 2023

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3D and augmented reality (AR) tech is helping brands tick stubborn customer experience (CX) boxes – spectacularly and profitably. 

Key takeaways:

  • Customer experience (CX) is key to modern day commerce 
  • How 3D-AR helps manufacturers, entrepreneurs and revenue leaders master and level-up the CX game
  • Examples of brands doing CX right with 3D-AR tech

With a million rivals competing for the attention and affection of an infinite buyer pool, companies need to constantly deliver on outstanding customer experiences (CX). 

Here is a real-life example of a retail product in augmented reality:

Click in "See in your space" to see this sunbed

What is customer experience (CX) and what are its business benefits?

Customer experience may be defined as the sum of interactions that play out across all touchpoints spanning the entire relationship period between a brand and its users. CX is a key weapon for commerce and revenue leaders to tilt the independent minded, empowered buyer in their favour. A positive CX can:

  • Differentiate a brand from market rivals in a cluttered category.
  • Generate emotional connection, respect, loyalty, social shareability and online reputation.  
  • Boost customer satisfaction, user retention and customer lifetime value (CLV).
  • Amplify profits, optimize costs and enhance business ROI.

As many as 80% of customers will happily switch to a rival brand if they encounter a bad customer experience. So it’s no surprise that 63% of CX managers confess to customer experience evolving as a greater priority for them in 2023, compared to a year ago.  

What are the elements of a great CX?

Some of the key expectations and KPI’s a company must tick, in order to ensure a top-notch experience for its customers and users, are: 

  • Moments of delight and joy 
  • UX and adoption convenience 
  • Personalization and customization 
  • Empowered decision making and greater buyer confidence   
  • Connect with purpose and values    
  • Loyalty programs 
  • Service and support

How to create a compelling CX roadmap for consumers? 

Crafting a powerful CX roadmap broadly comprises the following steps:

  • Understanding customer intent and need 
  • Defining customer personae
  • Mapping engagement funnel (awareness, interest, desire, action) strategy to customer personae
  • Measuring impact and capturing feedback
  • Refining the experience basis feedback 

A slew of technologies and methodologies have emerged to empower brand owners and marketers who are looking to add an edge to their CX strategy. Some examples are artificial intelligence, data and predictive analytics, automation, virtual reality (VR), voice capabilities, chatbots, omnichannel tech, CRM, listening and sentiment tools, natural language processing, cloud-based services, Contact Centre As A Service (CCAAS) and others. 

In recent times however, it is the unique 3D visual technology of augmented reality (AR) that has stolen a march over other stacks and tools. 3D and AR adds interactive layers of additional information to real world objects and environments, merging the physical and the digital spectacularly. Expedited by heightened online activity during the pandemic, 3D and AR has today become a ‘Go To Solution’ for P&L and commerce leaders. 

How is 3D transforming customer experience 

Empowering purchase decisions with actionable information 

With 3D and AR, it is possible to change shape, switch color, add texture, scale dimensions, zoom in and out, check feature, test functionality, re-arrange context and reposition items (‘move’ them from the physical store or the e-commerce website all the way to one’s own home and environment in just a few clicks) - allowing for an unrivalled understanding of fit and convenience. 

Case in point: Those looking to furnish their home or office can place items ‘virtually’ in their own spaces with the iconic Ikea Place app to visualize the furniture’s ‘cartworthy-ness’. Pizza Hut baked an innovative, interactive restaurant menu that inspired foodies to order pizza virtually. And there’s a Starbucks outlet in Shanghai that encourages visitors to unlock fun visuals and key product information on their smartphone, lifting brand attachment and trust in a single stroke. 

Raising buyer confidence by letting shoppers try it first!

If there’s anything buyers hate, it’s being caught in two minds. Is the outdoor kitchen too big for my garden? Does the look of the antique clock match the futuristic décor? Will the exercise bike fit my basement space? In short, should I go for it, or will I live to regret it? It is here that 3D and AR arrives as a heaven-sent, filling in the blanks for confused shoppers by giving them an authentic ‘taste’ before they commit to a transaction. 

Manufacturers and brands can now close the gap with ‘virtual trial rooms’ and ‘digital test drives’ that simulate the real experience (and sometimes even go beyond) and can be controlled right from one’s own hand. 

Indeed, with the virtual fitting room market slated to hit US$14.87bn by 2029, retail leaders - such as Walmart, which has been quick to acquire Zeekit –  are betting big on the space. Auto car BMW has revved-up the last-mile for auto fans with the iX, a bespoke 3D-AR application that lets luxury buffs play with virtual features like changing lights, switching colours and opening and closing of doors. Perfect Corp – an AI and AR firm with a vision to democratize shopping in the metaverse – makes it easy for smartphone owners to try on hair colour and access digital makeup tools on its YouCam app that has already been downloaded over a billion times. 

UX and adoption convenience 

Shopify reminds us that a staggering 97% of customers have abandoned a purchase journey simply because it wasn’t convenient. Engineers at Enhance are solving for the challenge with better UX: Their equipment-free web version of 3D-AR requires only a WiFi connection, and gets to work in just a few clicks.  

3D-AR is also breathing much needed life into boring brochures and dry manuals. This not only does away with voluminous and unwieldy instruction booklets, but walks users through key steps (like setup, configuration, trouble shooting and maintenance) with a level of lively efficiency that traditional support channels are finding hard to match. The upshot isn’t just troubleshooting of implementation hitches, but also greater brand appreciation thanks to intelligent usage advice. In a survey, nearly 42% of customers expressed an interest in technologies where an expert would guide them. Hyundai’s AR instruction manual app and Ikea’s AssembleAR app captures – and caters to – this customer expectation vividly.  

Personalization and customization

Neiman Marcus has innovated the Memory Mirror to take personalization to the next level. It enables fashionistas to browse and share outfits from all angles with the help of 3D and AR, and also maps shopper data to generate precise purchase recommendations.

The innovation by Enhance can decode user behaviour with advanced analytics to offer valuable feedback in real time. This allows manufacturers and brands to refine and customize products based on shopper sentiment, and thus deliver truly personalized outcomes. 

Connect with purpose and alignment with values 

The emerging generation cares deeply about sustainable environmental practises. 75% of millennials are changing their shopping habits in favour of greener approaches, and Gen-Z is ready to pay 10% more for brands that show empathy for the planet. 3D and AR offers brand custodians and marketers the perfect way to reposition themselves for this new customer demographic. They can achieve this with ‘virtual trials’ which brings down the scourge of returns by as much as 5%. Indeed, on home improvement platform Build.com, buyers empowered by 3D-AR tend to be up to 22 times less likely to return a purchase. Less returns brings down transportation logistics and, by extension, the environmental footprint that occurs due to travel – helping brands make a ‘green point’ while elevating business ROI. 

Delightful moments 

Whether it be dynamic e-commerce catalogues and websites’ product descriptions augmented by visual elements, it is all aimed at bringing back the in-store feel. For example, aisle navigation that makes supermarket visits a breeze, personalized buying assists, friendly field services, next-gen self-service support, augmented journalism or engaging learning materials in the classroom, 3D and AR is bringing alive the lost art of storytelling and systematically revolutionizing every inch along the discovery, purchase and adoption curve. 

Not just that. 3D and AR also makes it easy to capture imagination ‘at first sight’ with next level packaging stage. This can engineer big shifts in business outcomes, with a study showing that 93% of customers prioritize visual appearance in purchase journeys. Some examples of novel 3D and AR packaging are:  

  • Innovative ‘in-store installations’ - as fashion giant Zara did with 3D and AR versions of famous international fashion models, with empty window displays prodding curious crowds to quickly download the app for the ‘full model experience’
  • Hyper personalization solutions - like Nike Fit which dovetails AI, ML, data science, computer vision and recommendation algorithms to help people choose the right shoe size
  • Moments filled with sheer fun - as when McDonald’s turned their French fries package into mini soccer fields during the FIFA World Cup
  • Viral virtual factory tours -  like the distillery ‘trip’ Jack Daniels arranged for its loyal fans
  • A strong statement on sustainable environmental practises – check out this one from herbal haircare brand Herbal Essence
  • Interactive recipe and food demo’s – such as the one famously pioneered by Heinz
  • Audio-visual ‘eye openers’ - like the one from this Spanish electronics retailer

3D and AR: Rewriting CX, inside-out

Surveys tell us that a remarkable 84% of customers consider innovation as an important aspect of a brand. Almost on cue, a whopping 88 percent of retailers and mid-market companies have already started using some form of AR (or its sibling, VR). 

Customer experience goals that have traditionally been difficult to achieve at scale (especially for family run businesses and startups that don’t have specialized agencies or in-house marketing teams) - such as FOMO, purchase confidence, brag-ability on social media, cost optimization, and brand stickiness - are suddenly within reach. 

Augmented numbers  

Rich pickings confirm what many are beginning to believe; that 3D and AR is not just the future, but the ‘now’, of commerce. Figures confirm: 85% of consumers – including 92% of Gen-Z – are likely to buy from organizations that have a strong AR ‘DNA’. A Business Insider Intelligence report also states that no less than 75% of consumers expect an AR experience from retailers. The evidence doesn’t end there. Home-making site Houzz has noticed that 3D-AR tools can turn users 11X more likely to engage in a commercial exchange. And integrating 3D-AR in one’s marketing, sales, and customer outreach loops has been known to register 94% higher conversion rates, a result of enriched brand connect. 

Thanks to brisk, customer-facing innovations in 3D-AR labs around the world, CX is changing memorably and irreversibly. Commerce leaders must keep up. 

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