Do consumers want AI and AR in their mobile apps?

Discussion
Source: Gap
Mar 10, 2017
Matthew Stern

There might yet be a way to drive consumer adoption of retailer apps, at least according to a recent study by app developer Apadmi, which indicated that consumers are looking for artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) as additions to apps.

The study surveyed 2,000 users and found that 30 percent indicated they would like to see more innovation in mobile apps, as reported in Bdaily. Additionally, 26 percent said they wanted to see AI in shopping apps and 29 percent thought retailers should invest in AR and VR platforms.

While those numbers aren’t overwhelming, they do perhaps indicate that boosting the level of technology could increase the appeal of retailer apps with a meaningful segment of consumers.

Retailers have had difficulty getting customers to download and use their apps. A comScore study last year revealed that almost half of customers didn’t download a single app in an average month, as reported on RetailWire. The study indicated that mobile users tend to stick to a few apps, with nine out of 10 minutes spent on their top five favorites. Apps such as YouTube, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, as well as the then-popular Pokémon Go, ranked as some of the most popular.

While retailers have rolled out some AI-based tools — such as customer service mobile sites that leverage IBM’s Watson — they have still not figured out how to successfully fold AR into the shopping experience.

Implement AR in a way that actually improves shopping rather than disrupting it has been a big challenge for retailers. But if the Apadmi survey is correct, it’s incumbent upon retailers to crack this nut if they want to get customers’ eyes away from the more popular apps and over to their own.

Some retailers have begun experimenting with AR in order to increase their appeal to a tech-savvy shopper base.

Gap, for instance, which has struggled to regain relevance in recent years, recently announced it was testing a virtual dressing room app which allows customers to see clothing superimposed over virtual mannequins with different body types.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are retailers using their resources wisely by investing in AR and AI in their mobile apps? In what ways can these tools best be added to mobile apps to give customers what they want?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I encourage retailers to focus on establishing solid in-store execution prior to getting too carried away with AR and AI."
"AI and AR have the potential to completely change shopping experience."
"Retailers should make a small investment in time and resources looking at future technologies like AR and AI in order to be ready..."

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19 Comments on "Do consumers want AI and AR in their mobile apps?"


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Jon Polin
BrainTrust

I’m skeptical. I believe we may already be in the post-app era. As a consumer, making me download some app, then making me find it on my phone and open it each time I want to use it, is a chore, especially if the app isn’t 100 percent awesome at enhancing my life. Perhaps we’ve now skipped over apps for easier methods, such as speaking or texting our interests.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 8 months ago

Thoroughly agree.

I’m quite close to some AR development work. My sense is there’s very little true consumer value to be offered through it. A FEW applications might be useful. But not very many.

It’s useful as a corporate PR strategy but not generally a viable tool to improve customer experience in a way that increases profits. And that strategy may be important for stock price and other necessary realities facing retail. Yet that also means we shouldn’t get carried away with the mythology.

Di Di Chan
Guest

Customers shop with a purpose, to buy things. While shopping can be fun, retailers can never outcompete the entertainment industry. If AR and AI in a retail app is just a gimmick then it’ll last a few seconds because of the “cool” factor but will not be sustainable (especially if it drains extra battery life). If the AR and AI in the apps are actually useful in improving the shopping experience, then there’ll be a chance for shopper adoption. In the near future, I see staff using their mobile device with AR and AI to help enhance customer service (like showcasing their product) more so than customers downloading a retailer’s app just to use the AR/AI features.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Let’s keep in mind that most consumers don’t want this. The sample was shoppers who use retailer apps. Then you’re looking at one-third of these users thinking AI and AR are useful. So no, brick-and-mortar retailers are not investing wisely if they are worrying about this.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

A virtual dressing room won’t help you if no one wants to buy your clothes. For many retailers, I believe that AR and AI are technologies that have a long way to go before they can provide a meaningful ROI. While it’s in all retailers’ best interest to understand what’s available and how it might be applied to their retail business, many of these new AR and AI technologies fall into the “shiny new thing” category. I encourage retailers to focus on establishing solid in-store execution prior to getting too carried away with AR and AI.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 8 months ago

You bring up the virtual dressing room. I thoroughly agree with you.

Even more, do we forget how human senses fire on all cylinders in a physical dressing room — feeling fabric, small areas of bad fit, looking to see how clothing hangs on our unique body, and on and on?

Seems to me that a virtual dressing room can add only a tiny bit over a fit chart on a website. What I want as a consumer is to really try on the clothes. Anything short of that is second best.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Let’s first start by separating AR and AI from apps. Are retailers investing wisely in AR and AI? This can be a game-changer for them if they can find what works for their customers and what will enhance the shopping experience. Does it have to have anything to do with an app? No. Most shoppers have no interest in having to open separate apps for every retailer they shop.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Michael Day
BrainTrust
I attended the Millennial 2020 Conference in NYC last week (Millennials, as defined by the conference: Ages 18-34. 80 million strong. Projected $7 trillion in lifetime buying power. The demographic that will determine just what the future of our retail world will look like). At least based on certain AI presentations I attended at the conference, Gap looks to be moving in the right, future-forward, direction with their virtual dressing room app, etc. Some takeaways from the presentations were: AI in Commerce: According to eMarketer, led by Millennial shoppers, consumers now expect retailers to harness the power of AI to provide a customized and efficient shopping experience. Understanding Artificial Intelligence in Commerce: Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without human intervention. Race for Relevance and Engagement via Visual Search: Redshift Research shows that 73 percent of consumers complain about the inefficiencies in text-based search and nearly 75 percent of younger shoppers want visual search functionality to be integrated into their purchase journey (with a 160 percent increase in… Read more »
Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Give me a reason to download your app. What’s in it for me? What experience will I get? Will you blatantly promote to me (and irritate me), or will you give me an experience that is of value to me? It doesn’t matter if AR or AI is in the app if it doesn’t make me want to keep it and use it.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I would be extremely wary of consumer surveys that show findings about shoppers’ desires for AI usage by retailers. If you question consumers on what AI actually is, I’d bet Al McClain’s paycheck that 99 percent of them could not define it. Are there some basic, perennial challenges, (like in-stock conditions and mass, un-targeted discounts) that retailers still struggle with? Sure. Can AI help address these problems? Yes, it already is with some innovators today.

AR is another story. It’s flashy, yet I don’t see it replacing brick-and-mortar anytime soon.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Have you ever used the AI in the Google app? Or Siri? Or Echo? At least to a Boomer like me, it’s a dream come true. For retailers, imagine a customer simply being able to ask their phone, “please show me all your tops in a medium” or “yes, purchase” and then done. It’s a game-changer in a way, but one I think all retailers will have to come up to speed with sooner than later. Otherwise, you can count on the 900-pound gorilla to do it before you. Let’s go! Speed your way to innovation or wind up on the cutting room floor!

Ed Dunn
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

I feel the retail industry has to take ownership defining the role of consumer BYOD technology and assess the value/risk.

Years ago, retail had several AR trials and we discovered the way a consumer held their phone to experience AR made them vulnerable for phone thieves to quickly snatch their phone and run — these events actually happened in early AR trials. In addition, there are dozens of reported muggings from Pokémon Go around the country due to the mobile user being distracted. I see none of these risks documented in the linked article addressing AR downside/risk/liability to retailers, associates and customers due to the vulnerable UX factor of mobile-based AR.

Even if the customer wants mobile AR, retailers should be more vocal to set the tone and expectation of what technology can truly be implemented in the marketplace.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust
Let’s look at mobile app trends today. Retailers with their own apps have a challenge getting consumers to use their dedicated app. I agree that consumers use a small number of apps and specialized ones for a retailer will migrate to the bottom of their priorities. Second, there is a small number of people who have been exposed to AR and AI and would demand the retailer to have those technologies as part of their mobile apps. Third, the mobile user today is most interested in making the search, review, decision and purchase processes easy on any product they would like to purchase. These trends portend for slow adoption of AR and AI. With so many challenges in retail today, the most important thing a retailer can focus on is attaining and retaining customers through what ever means is important to the customer. If AR and AI become important to attract and retain customers, then they should invest in those technologies. I just don’t see those technologies important enough to attract customers today. Better to… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Contributing Editor, RetailWire; Founder and CEO, Vision First
2 years 8 months ago

AI and AR have the potential to completely change shopping experience. If they are present, easy and useful then shoppers will declare them winners.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The key point being that it’s not about the AI or AR itself, but about what value that functionality will actually bring to the shopper. AI/AR have a cool factor that must convert to easy and useful tools that shoppers need as Patricia mentions above.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

I think Stephen Needel uncovered the undermining facts. The people interviewed represent a small segment of the retail customer population and even among these folks interest in AI and AR is low. And without knowing the revenue these shoppers represent I wouldn’t feel secure even considering a new technology/app investment.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Others here have mentioned the most important point — it’s about the value the retail app brings to the consumer. If AI and AR bring new value to the consumer then they are well worth the investment. I think retailers continue to miss another key point about retail apps — they will only be downloaded by your most loyal customers. Stop trying to make apps that ALL shoppers will want to download and use. That’s just not going to happen. The occasional shopper to your store is never going to believe it has value even if you add AI and AR, focus on your mobile website for these shoppers. And either way, stop assuming it’s all about promotion. That’s not a path to true engagement. For your most loyal shoppers, AI and AR have the potential to really enhance the experience both in-store and while at home or on the go. A few years ago, Belk made this video (on YouTube here) to express their vision of the store of the future. In it, you… Read more »
Sunny Kumar
BrainTrust

AR and VR are new channels that are gaining awareness in the mainstream. As with all new channels, they are exciting and shiny and it’s easy to think that by augmenting exiting services, products, and even channels this will supercharge these existing properties somehow.

The truth more likely aligns with harnessing these technologies to better meet user needs — yes consumer value — but also with fixing touchpoints which may not mean an app, IM bot or website update.

Michael Spencer
Guest
Apps have incredible redundancy in a winner-takes-all market as consumers don’t typically use many apps at any given moment. I also concur that we are seeing many signs of “post-app” innovation like the smart speaker and the emergence of hands-free IoT solutions. It’s not AR or AI that apps require to be successful, it’s integration among many verticals. An app that facilitates loyalty, mobile coupons, payments and other consumer benefits has the most chance of retaining customers. Think of what the Starbucks app does right compared to less ubiquitous applications. Apps for retail that integrate location marketing, loyalty points across brands, mobile-centric solutions such as digital receipts and mobile coupons have a greater chance of success — because they impact consumers in their real shopping journeys. I’m skeptical about AR’s application in retail, but AI in apps can connect and power the IoT of retail. What is Amazon Go but a mobile automation of the checkout experience or a “virtual checkout,” if you will? We are starting to see QR codes used more in retail… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I encourage retailers to focus on establishing solid in-store execution prior to getting too carried away with AR and AI."
"AI and AR have the potential to completely change shopping experience."
"Retailers should make a small investment in time and resources looking at future technologies like AR and AI in order to be ready..."

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