Is an AR demo better than the real thing?

Source: LEGO AR-Studio
Feb 22, 2018

Trying out a toy in-store can get kids excited about the product. And once kids are interested in a toy, they can be very effective in convincing their parents to buy it. Mattel is now taking this experience into the virtual world with augmented reality (AR) at the shelf.

This fall the brand is introducing an AR app for its Hot Wheels playsets, according to Engadget. The app will allow users to interact with a virtual on-screen version of a playset when they point their device at it on the shelf. Part of the intention behind the tool is to allow customers to get a feel for how the product will work while preventing retailers from using up floor space on toy demos.

While AR can provide an engaging new experience for customers, can it motivate a purchase as effectively as physically playing with a real-world toy?

Mattel is not the first toy company to experiment with on-shelf AR. In 2014, early-adopter Lego rolled out its “In-Store Action” app. The app lets users scan posters in-store to bring up and interact with an on-screen animated Lego figure.

Toy retailers have experimented with AR as well. Last fall, Toys “R” Us began rolling out an AR experience to its stores. Using a phone or tablet, customers could play an AR game that was thematically linked to the section of the store in which they were standing at each of 13 “stations.”

Letting customers try before they buy is an AR use case growing popular outside of the toy world, too. Last year, for instance, IKEA rolled out its Place app, which lets users superimpose a virtual image of a specific piece of furniture over a space in their home to see how it would look.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should brands plan to use augmented reality technology instead of in-store demos for toys and other products? Will retailers fail to “delight” customers by gravitating too far toward AR rather than physical demos?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"AR could be the top-of-the-funnel interaction to lead to further exploration."
"The problem is not getting the kids to try the AR once in the store. The problem is getting them to “go” to the store."
"Using AR in furniture or other types of retail that let the consumer visualize a large (expensive to ship) item seems like good use of the technology."

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "Is an AR demo better than the real thing?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Phil Masiello

AR has its place in retail for sure. Certain categories, like toys, will still require some physical interaction at some point. Children need to interact somewhere along the purchase decision tree. AR could be the top-of-the-funnel interaction to lead to further exploration.

However I think in other areas, like cosmetics, AR can play a powerful role. Think about a customer choosing a lipstick and an AR app showing the eye and face colors that will work well with that particular color on that customer’s face.

I can see the same use case in fashion and home decor. IKEA’s app is one step, but the ability to increase sales and solve problems is where the technology gets powerful. A customer can choose one piece and, through the app, get suggestions to furnish an entire room and see how it will look.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

AR will come to retail. A key question right now is whether it is cutting edge or bleeding edge. The other critical question will be who pays for it and how to train staff to optimize it in store. Many of the AR experiences in test right now are not self-evident.

I am very positive about retailers innovating and testing. A huge part of those tests have to be measurement. Measurement has to include not only the effect on sales, but also the impact on customer experience and perceptions. It will be an interesting experiment. Some parents may want the AR to see how the toy works. Other parents are trying to buy toys based on the child’s experience away from digital screens and influence.

As always, the customers will be the ones who decide whether it adds value.

Max Goldberg

Letting consumers experience a product is smart and will increase sales. I just wonder how many different apps consumers will need to do this because, unless they regularly shop a store, I doubt most will take the time to download.

Art Suriano

I think this supports the case that businesses and retailers today are investing in too much unproven technology without knowing if it will be useful and, more importantly, how it will help or not help their business.

What makes the in-store experience? Part of it is to experience what you are going to buy before purchase. An app is two-dimensional, not three. In three dimensions there is the opportunity to touch and feel. The app is limiting and may not allow the customer to do what he or she might want to try with the toy. Moreover, we are at the mercy of the Wi-Fi connection in the store assuming there is one. So there are many issues here.

Why not put together an exciting in-store display allowing children to physically interact with the toys, staffed with some friendly, well-trained associates> And think what might happen. Yes, we’d make sales and truly deliver an exciting in-store customer experience.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Brands should use it, as should retailers, if it drives sales. If you are not sure if it will drive sales, test it first (I’m assuming Mattel has done this). If the test fails, ask whether it was the AR experience itself or the content placed in AR that was the problem.

Anne Howe

I too think AR has a place in the future of retail. Especially in complex categories. But for toys, I favor real-life demos more than AR for the simple reason that emotional engagement still drives so many purchase decisions. It’s hard to imagine a parent or grandparent not feeling “good enough to buy” while watching a young one explore, learn or have fun with a toy.

That said, if done well, AR or video in-store or online should really convey the emotions that drive purchase. Manufacturers and retailers owe it to themselves to do their research thoroughly!

Gene Detroyer

The real question is not one or the other, but what will give the retailer the most results. In-store demos are limited by space and employees if they are needed. How many can you have in your store at one time? AR can appear throughout the store. That will generate more interaction. And let’s not forget the generations who adapt to technology so easily.

Brandon Rael

AR is quickly becoming integrated into and around retail, and it’s certainly resonating with the digital natives. However, children will always enjoy a multi-sensory experience that AR will not necessarily provide. The interaction, experimentation and imagination come to life when they get their hands on the product.

Where AR has and will become omnipresent is within the lifestyle, home furnishings and beauty segments, where we are already seeing retailers such as Sephora integrate the technology into their stores. Sephora’s mobile app allows the consumer to try virtual makeup on at home with AR.

For the DIY home designers, as well the professional interior design service providers, AR enables a realistic experience and enables you to imagine the space with the new furnishings, colors, fabrics etc. This has picked up significant momentum, especially with Williams-Sonoma’s acquisition of 3-D imaging startup Outward.

Neil Saunders

I tried the Lego AR feature. Quite frankly, it was garbage and felt like technology for the sake of technology!

I am not saying that AR is without merit, I think it brings a lot of benefits and can be employed very effectively. However, retailers need to think about how and where it is used. In categories like furniture, helping shoppers to visualize how items will look in their rooms is helpful. In toys, replacing the tactile experience of playing with a physical toy with a virtual experience isn’t quite so appealing.

That said, AR integrated into toys and using AR as a toy is a growth area!

Sky Rota
4 years 5 months ago

The problem is not getting the kids to try the AR once in the store. The problem is getting them to “go” to the store. They need to engage us at home first in order to get us in the store. Make some 3-D videos kids can watch from home on their VR headsets or at least make a handful of fantastic engaging short video trailers for Instagram and YouTube that the kids will watch get hyped up about and share with each other and then drag their parents to the store.

You need to come to us today. Show us the demo, trailer, clip on our platforms of choice — not your store shelves. Don’t wait for us to stumble onto something in a store. It’s not happening today. Generation Zers are prepared and educated when it comes to shopping. We go shopping for a reason, with a plan and our eyes on the prize and ready to buy. You want to be the one we are visiting to make our planned purchase from.

Shep Hyken

There is nothing better than the “real thing.” Showing an open box where the customer can touch and feel merchandise is a real experience. Making it virtual is a step behind that. A customer can see the merchandise, but VR and AR have not yet met the challenge of engaging all five senses. At this time, AR and VR are in the “this is cool!” stage. Soon it will be the norm. By that time, the experience will be even better. (And I can’t wait for that!)

Ralph Jacobson

As this AR technology has evolved in the past couple years, the potential applications for it have become more realistic. Leveraging AR for products and uses of products in-store could be a great way to differentiate at the point of purchase. Imagine pointing your device at the supermarket shelves to see how the item can be prepared into a delicious finished entree, or something like that. I can see this being far more agile and adaptive than a static demo display.

Tom Erskine
4 years 5 months ago

Replacing demos I can touch and feel with ones I can’t doesn’t “augment” reality, it does the opposite. Until retailers recognize this, their strategies are unlikely to be successful. I was blown away at NRF by the number of technology demonstrations that fail to understand that what makes a retail experience great is that it engages at least 4 of 5 senses.

Mike Osorio

The AR technology is already well represented in other areas such as furniture and cosmetics, as noted by my colleagues, and providing strong results. Content and a reasonable facsimile of a real experience is necessary, but it is being done. I have also seen this used with great conversion results in the sunglasses category.

This question, however, focuses on the toy segment and I have two thoughts that support the use of AR in the category. First, today’s parents of young children are themselves digital natives and will have history using the technology and if the content is strong, they will engage. Second, this is not an either/or. In the physical store, demos should remain part of the customer experience formula. But adding AR in a few spots throughout the store can keep engagement and excitement going. The advances in the technology make the comparison to the 2012 LEGO attempt irrelevant. I think this is beyond “cutting edge” and becoming mainstream. The danger is not use, it is overuse.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
4 years 5 months ago

Augmented reality is a great way to demo toys and other products in an engaging way. Once it is designed, it can be replicated across all stores and other channels in a consistent way. A mounted tablet also takes up less space than a play table for toys and it eliminates the need to write-off used or broken demo toys. Maybe a hybrid approach would be better, leveraging real people as well as AR.

While AR may work well for some products, it might not be the answer for all. For example, some products that customers want to touch or smell – like clothing, furniture, mattresses and fragrances – physical demos will continue to be the best approach.

Harley Feldman

AR is an added technology to a store experience not a replacement. It will allow the associate to provide a larger experience to the consumer than the physical experience since additional scenes can be shown than can be set up in the store. Since each consumer has different interests and perspective, AR and stores demos can be combined to meet each consumers needs. Retailers trying to sell products only with AR will be disappointed — the consumer will still expect service and support from associates.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Engaging and well-executed AR can help brands bring their vision to life. Using AR just because it is a cool technology will not drive sales.

Larry Negrich

Using AR in furniture or other types of retail that let the consumer visualize a large (expensive to ship) item seems like a good use of the technology and good for the demo of the target audience. Now a well-produced AR experience for toys may be more appealing to a younger demographic than the physical interaction. Would like to see if the AR helped Toys “R” Us sales … given the headlines, it doesn’t appear so.

Morgan Linton
I think this is a trend that we are going to see growing considerably over time as AR technology continues to progress. It’s important to remember that these are still the early days of AR and using a phone or tablet to experience AR doesn’t offer the same wow factor as a solution like the Microsoft Hololens or Magic Leap. For AR to really take off I think you’ll need to wait for a headset-based AR solution to become more affordable and standardized. Once a shopper can put on a headset and see something appear in front of them that looks exactly like the product they are thinking of purchasing, then AR will be a very effective tool and a likely technology to truly progress the in-store experience. That being said, changes like this take time and I think we’re still 3 – 5 years away from having a real viable AR headset solution that will make its way into retail stores. Companies like Amazon have already talked about using AR in smaller format stores… Read more »
"AR could be the top-of-the-funnel interaction to lead to further exploration."
"The problem is not getting the kids to try the AR once in the store. The problem is getting them to “go” to the store."
"Using AR in furniture or other types of retail that let the consumer visualize a large (expensive to ship) item seems like good use of the technology."

Take Our Instant Poll

How concerned are you that retailers will fail to "delight" customers by gravitating too far toward AR rather than physical demos?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...