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Do AR right or don't do it at all

While shopping for several products for my new kitchen and bath, I purposefully sought out AR sales tools. What I discovered (besides the fact that there aren’t many out there) is that the bad ones ruined my impression of the brand. I’ll discuss my experience and some pitfalls to avoid when considering this (relatively) new technology for marketing home products.

After 10 years of imagining, planning and saving, my wife and I began the insane process of renovating our first-floor kitchen and bathroom. Thanks to my career in marketing, I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to put on my “homeowner hat” and really pay attention to my consumer experience.

To my surprise, shopping for home products was REALLY frustrating and inconsistent and confusing and generally fragmented across the board. I won’t go down the rabbit hole of the terrible displays, uninformative POP, insufficient samples, complicated online shopping resources and the dozens of unfortunate factors that contributed to my bad shopping experience (that’s another blog post). For now, I’ll just focus on the available Augmented Reality tools.

A quick overview of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that overlays virtual or computer-generated imaging on top of the natural world around the user to be seen through a device like a smartphone, tablet or a headset — so it appears as if the image is actually in the real setting.

Augmented Reality has been around for some time now (since 1997, in fact) and its sophistication has evolved nicely. Those fun filters on Snapchat and the Pokemon Go! app are a couple of popular examples. It is slowly finding its footing in the commercial and marketing space. In fact, the biggest of the big dogs are investing heavily in the technology — including Apple, Facebook , Microsoft, Google and Samsung (to name a few) — helping contribute to the adoption.

According to Tech Crunch, mobile AR could become the primary driver of a $108 billion Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (VR) market by 2021, with AR taking the lion’s share of $83 billion and VR $25 billion. (1)

As marketers begin to consider the exciting possibilities of AR and the growing accessibility of the technology, especially with the smartphone becoming the major platform (rather than headsets or other devices), more companies and brands are dipping their toes in AR-based sales tools.

AR for home products

AR is perfectly suited for the home products market for one big reason: homeowners/consumers, like myself, want to visualize a potential product in their space. Personally, I REALLY wanted help visualizing products like flooring, tile, lighting, appliances and countertops.

After going through the first few phases of the buying journey (I’m wearing my marketing hat now) — awareness, consideration, exploration — I was seeking a more practical and informative tool to help me make product decisions.

There were SOOOOOOOOOOOO many choices. Most websites only offered a thumbnail or an image of a portion of the product/pattern/finish. Most dealers and retailers only offered a small sample in display and/or to take home.

It was not helpful.

I found myself desperately searching for images of the product applied in a space similar to mine (or at least with a similar aesthetic). From Houzz to Pinterest to customer reviews with attachments buried deep in a website, I went down A LOT of rabbit holes.

All of this time and effort would have been easily avoided with a great AR tool.

So, I went searching the App Store. I was disappointed to find very few AR apps for home products. But there were some, and I installed them all.

Generally “Meh”

The majority of these apps were — to put it simply — not good, which only added fuel to my frustration fire. Generally, here’s what I didn’t like:

Confusing instructions
OMG! Make the instructions simple and easy to find. Instructions for these apps were ALL OVER THE PLACE. Spend more time than you think on “how to,” which is crucial to the user experience. BTW, no one wants to watch a 5-minute video. If you go with video instructions, make chapters (at the very least).

Clunky user interface (UI)
This was a huge bug-a-boo for me. I really struggled with a lot of these apps’ UI. From the size of the color/pattern swatches (are my fingers unusually fat?) to the mechanics of the border drawing tool, I struggled. This resulted in the need to repeatedly go back, delete and/or start over. With many of the apps, I just abandoned ship altogether.

Poor lighting/shading
Capturing variances in light on color and texture is an incredibly difficult challenge. I get it. As many dealers mentioned, “it’s almost impossible to mimic exactly what X will look like in your home.” I totally understand.

But many of the images of color/finish options in these apps were not a flattering depiction of the actual product and/or its quality. And many of the physical samples in the retail locations were really different than what the image was depicting in the AR tool. WTH?

In a virtual environment, why not add more functionality? At the very least, allow users to adjust lighting. Gosh, there are dozens of ways this can be improved. Regardless, image quality is numero uno on the priority list.

The collateral damage on brand impression

Here’s the interesting thing. My experience with the apps greatly influenced my impression of the brands. This is partly due to the fact that I had no initial awareness of many (if not all) of the brands. I was coming into the shopping experience completely cold. Like most consumers, I didn’t pay attention to flooring/cabinet/etc. brands until I needed what they offered.

I was in the early stages of my buying journey and only paying attention to things like styles, finishes and colors, NOT BRANDS. So, in many cases, the app was my first intimate interaction with an individual brand. And I guarantee you, this will be the case for many potential consumers.

Bad app = suspicious brand

(Internal dialogue) “Are they not focused on the details?” “Are they complicit with low quality?” “Do they cut corners?” “Is this a reflection of their product quality or customer service?” “Do they have low standards?” “Is this indicative of the quality of their dealer network?”

This shred of doubt led to elimination.

And there were PLENTY of other brands and products in the sea. I moved on.

Take the plunge. Just keep your standards high.

The risks of developing a marketing tool utilizing new technology can be intimidating. And the unchartered waters maybe too much for a marketer to swallow. They can certainly play it safe and execute something that’s tried and true.

But….

The rewards of creating a forward-thinking tool that is practical, cool, novel and helpful can be an ENORMOUS opportunity to connect with consumers, drive more leads and gain a competitive advantage. The promise of AR can certainly deliver that very tool. It’s perfectly suited for home products! I mean, have you seen the AR ruler apps like MeasureKit for iOS? How awesome (and relevant) is that?

In fact, AR can transform the way consumers shop for products…not to mention the way typical sales channels (and their customers) sell.

But the cautionary tale is that a brand’s marketing tools — from website to collateral to AR app — are a reflection of that brand. Execution is EVERYTHING. Nobody’s going to get credit for merely attempting to create a techy new tool. If the experience isn’t seamless, simple, easy and helpful, the result will undoubtedly be a big blemish — and, very likely — total elimination from consideration.

So, here’s the lesson: If you’re going to do AR, do it right.

Or don’t do it at all.

Shameless plug

Guess what? We do AR — the right way! Shocking, I know. Want to discuss a project? We’d love to hear about what you’d like to build, and put together a proposal. Scroll down to the contact form at the bottom of this page.

(1) https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/11/the-reality-of-vrar-growth/

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