CES 2023 Trends: Augmented Reality Apps for an Immersive Retail Customer Experience

We reported from CES in Las Vegas on companies showcasing AI virtual humans as customer service agents, and another hot trend on display was augmented reality (AR) apps — with many of those having direct applications to retail marketing.

It might sound gimmicky, but consumers are keen to adopt AR in their shopping habits. A McKinsey survey found that nearly half of all US consumers are interested in using AR and other metaverse technologies for shopping in the next five years. 

Just one of the companies showcasing their AR apps at CES was Arbeon, a social media startup in South Korea. Arbeon — which is currently in beta-testing phase — is primarily an AR-based social media app in which users scan a product or object and then share their comments, photos, and so on, which appear on pop-up cards around the object. Other people’s comments and photos around the same object also appear, creating the social interaction. The item can be anything, from an everyday household object to a branded item such as a can of Coke or some pop-band merchandise — as long as it’s something that more than one person might scan and tag in the app. 

Possible Retail Applications 

Arbeon’s AR-based, object-focused app may or may not take off as a social media platform, but this kind of technology has direct and relevant applications to retail, as it can create an immersive phygital” experience for shoppers. 

For example, online customers with the Arbeon or similar app can scan an item such as a smartphone, and immediately see pop-up cards with all the e-commerce information and links they need, including lowest price search, product information, user product reviews, how and where to buy it, and related-product recommendations such as compatible cases and add-ons. They no longer need to look up a product in search engines or e-commerce store — they can just scan any item that is in front of them to be taken to a series of e-commerce options. 

In-store, a customer’s scan of a product on a shelf can similarly reveal any product, pricing, and related accessory information. Dropship could be applied here if the product is not actually in stock. In a telecom retail environment, whether single- or multi-carrier, a choice of rate plan options could also be added. Retailers could even increase shopper engagement by hiding promotional Easter Eggs” in a virtual scavenger hunt around the store, such as a customer scanning a certain item to reveal a discount code or a free screen protector. 

Other AR Apps for Retail Marketing

From its retail application perspective, Arbeon’s technology may be cool, but the company is not the first to come up with this kind of AR customer experience technology.

  • The tech is similar to existing AR marketing platforms such as ROAR, which allows businesses including retailers to enhance both the in-store and online customer experience. From the user perspective, scanning an item allows customers to browse reviews, look at pricing, and purchase the product in-app.
  • Social media tool Snapchat, well known for its AR technology that is most often used to apply filters to faces, is one giant that is already established in the retail marketing space. The same technology that puts bunny ears on your selfie allows marketers to create their own branded filters and promote products to followers. The company has also created collaborations such as event-based AR games — for example, the Bell 5G Toronto Raptors AR Lens—and this kind of immersive experience could be applied in a retail setting such as at a pop-up store at an event.
  • Many home furnishing and adjacent brands are already using AR technology to allow users to scan a product and upload it into an image of their home to see what it would look like. Added to that, numerous fashion, accessory, cosmetic, and other retail brands offer AR tools that let you virtually try on” the latest clothing, glasses, or lipstick shade. While these may seem to have less direct relevance to wireless retailers today, this type of try before you buy” AR experience could be extended into the connected-device space as smart home and entertainment products cross over into this category. Imagine, for example, deciding which new TV would look better in your living room, or which smart fridge would complement your kitchen cabinets. Even today, it would be possible for a customer to virtually see what a smart watch might look like on their own wrist.

With the new generation of Gen Z consumers accustomed to having Snapchat filters and AR technology at their fingertips — retailers of all kinds will need to adopt these kinds of tools to create the immersive experience those customers will expect.

Telecom and connected-device retail is no exception — in fact, it should be at the very forefront of adoption, given that it is connected devices that all these AR tools are using. Which means that, yes, soon we’ll all be scanning smartphones with our smartphones. Very meta.