TLDR: Provide Consumers with Augmented Reality to reduce shipping and returns.

Hey consumer! What a time to be alive, am I right? By harnessing the power of the internet, it truly is a buyer’s market: we can suss out competitive rates on merchandise; we can order from merchants far and wide; in the event that we have second thoughts on a purchase, there’s no problem because free shipping and free returns are commonplace. But that’s where there is problem, ethically speaking, with this drastic uptick in shipping and logistics. With all of the convenience that purchasing in 2019 affords, it’s easy to overlook the consequences of our buying habits and the undeniable byproducts that impact our planet.

Did you know companies spent a record $1.5 Trillion on shipping costs in 2017? This is due to two factors:

1) More people are buying online, increasing the demand for shipping.

2) 65% of retailers are expected to offer same-day shipping before the end of the year. 

I’m not here to shame your Amazon Prime addiction or bum you out about carbon emissions, in fact, my intent is to shine a light on what makes me hopeful for our consumption future! The primary driver of this hope is the advent of Extended Reality (XR). For those of you who may be confused by this term, it serves as a hypernym encompassing virtual reality (VR), an immersive and interactive computer-generated simulated experience that is accessible via VR headset, and augmented reality, an incorporation of digital overlays into your surrounding through a lens, whether it be a smartphone or wearable technology.

So how does XR play a role in the economic and social cycle of consumerism? Intervention! Today’s consumers demand immediate access. XR provides users with tangible visuals that satiate their curiosity, which would otherwise invoke the process of purchasing, shipping, and returning said goods. According to the National Retail Federation, total merchandise returns account for nearly $369 billion in lost sales for US retailers

IKEA, a true pioneer for AR technology, leveraged Apple’s ARKit to create IKEA Place in 2017. IKEA sought to bring its furniture catalogue to life in customer’s very own homes. Anecdotally speaking and not at all #sponsored, I can personally attest to the ease of use. I had my heart set on a HEMNES dresser but there was absolutely no way I going to drive 3 hours to Atlanta, purchase, cart home, build the entire thing by meticulously following the instructions provided if there was any shrivel of a doubt that this piece of furniture was going to fit perfectly into my home, from both a size and aesthetic perspective. IKEA Place helped me to narrow my choice to a black brown finish and guided me to conversion. From 2017 to 2018, Ikea saw a 31 percent jump in online sales and has declared it will be increasing its investment in augmented reality.

We will continue to see this consumer trend grow in the next few years. According to Gartner, 100 million consumers will shop using AR technology both online and in-store and 46 percent of retailers have planned to deploy either AR or VR solutions to meet customer service experience requirements by 2020.

Are you excited to see these technologies accelerate through the Hype Cycle? Which online retailer do you want to embrace AR next?

Written by Lauren McNamara @ CodeTank Labs

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