The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of the Coronavirus. The pandemic has impacted the ways in which people from all walks of life live and work. While all industries have been disrupted in some ways, some industries are also experiencing growth and innovation. This is the case for extended reality in retail.
For much of human experience, retail had been a strictly in-person venture. While many retail industries had found a home on e-commerce platforms, launch events and products testing remained physical activities. Perhaps the most significant trends in AR and VR enabled retail has been the digitization of these experiences.
Acceleration, not Creation
While AR and VR enabled retail was already blooming and booming before the coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult to understate the impact that COVID-19 has had on the field.
In May, AR creation platform Poplar announced over $2.5M USD in funding that they linked directly to increased demand for AR retail experiences during lockdowns.
Virtual Product Launches
In the pre-covid world, product launches were often large, in-person events for showcasing products to fans and the press. With travel and gatherings limited, a number of tech companies have turned to AR and VR experiences to facilitate remote versions of these events.
During the Augmented World Expo, an XR-focused event held remotely during Q1, HP held a launch of its Reverb G2 headset within VR events platform Altspace. HP’s Joanna Popper called the event HP’s first VR launch of a VR product.
While the actual launch took place in early Q3, phone maker OnePlus announced what they call the world’s first AR product launch in the first half of 2020. Even before the actual launch event, which took place in mid-July, an AR countdown was displayed when users viewed an invitation through the app required for the launch.
Further, while virtual models were already used internally by clothing retailers and designers, the first half of 2020 saw a steep increase in virtual fashion shows for the larger public.
Until recently, most AR experiences required dedicated apps – or one app that could only run experiences made using that platform. Increasingly, interest has shifted toward “Web AR” - augmented reality experiences that work in browser windows without physical targets.
Award winning studio 8th Wall is driving the charge, with ambitious projects released in the first half of 2020, including face mapping for face filters and digital try-ons.
8th Wall was one of a number of a number of companies working together on an AR package for Siduri Wines. The entirely browser-based experience requires no dedicated target and is composed of three separate educational experiences, featuring the winery’s founder.
Social Media and Face Filters
While some AR enabled retail experiences require their own apps or to be used through the creator’s website, these experiences are increasingly being leveraged over social media, with over 1.6 Billion active daily users interacting with “Social AR” according to a Groove Jones report released earlier this year using 2019 figures.
Social media is attractive to retailers because, when done well, it encourages users to share branded content. This is particularly true with photo filters and lenses.
In June, Spark AR launched a package of tools for use with social media platform Instagram. The package introduces face filters, as well as experiences that respond to music.
Branded Content and Markers
In the earliest days of augmented reality, physical markers like QR codes were required to launch an experience. As the technology advanced, most AR experiences became possible without these markers.
For a time, marker-based AR for consumers largely fell out of fashion. However, the first half of 2020 saw a resurgence of popularity for targeted AR particularly in retail. Placing AR targets on branded content, particularly product packaging, encourages users to engage with the product in entertaining ways.
Late in Q2, AR studio Zappar partnered with can manufacturers and microbreweries to place targets for AR experiences on beverage packaging in Canada. Zappar was also involved in a target-based AR experience that appeared on Coca-cola cans in South Africa in Q1.
One 2020 trend in spatial computing, retail, and life in general is discussing the “new normal.” We can’t know the extent to which these trends will continue in spatial computing and retail after the world recovers from the coronavirus, but it’s safe to say that none of them will go away, even after product launches return to the physical world.