Digital commerce is radically changing by the rapid advancement of augmented reality.
Augmented reality went mainstream with the explosion of Pokémon GO, and has since emerged as a major player in the B2B sales space, especially for forward-thinking companies willing to push new technological boundaries. This has helped propel a rapid evolution of AR/VR software technologies, which has already made an impact in our daily consumer activities.
The foundation of this movement lies in the maturing of the underlying software and hardware technology platforms used to develop and deploy augmented reality applications. Although many technology platforms are being used for augmented reality, the release of the Apple ARKit and Google ARCore has helped in expanding the development of new applications and domains exploring the use of AR.
Both Apple ARKit and Google ARCore are the now-ubiquitous tools for development, each making it easier to push AR apps onto their respective platforms, through not only the development tool but also their channels to get these to market (App Store). A combination that widely facilitates the viewing of AR among the handheld device audience for both tablets and smartphones.
The challenge now is to start moving AR technology from novelty towards a technology that will offer real and tangible value across a broader range of markets outside of gaming. The real explosion of AR value and exposure is happening today in retail and consumer applications.
This initiative has been led by major retailers like Amazon, Walmart and IKEA, and with product companies like Nike who have all made significant investments in consumer AR applications. Retailers are smart to adopt this technology: Almost 70% of consumers expect retailers to launch an AR app within the next six months. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of companies don’t use AR at all.
This trend will need to change and will be led by early adopters and visionary market leaders. Walmart’s e-commerce team has already deeply invested in a range of AR applications for product design, sales, marketing and training. They predicted that in-home previewing of how furniture fits in the home, like what’s offered in IKEA’s home furnishings AR application, will be a regular and expected experience shortly.
How AR Will Drive Massive Value in B2B Sales
Already, we’re seeing early indications of retail expectations beginning to influence the B2B market and customers expecting to have the same experiences they have in their day-to-day retail life. Regarding the actual value of augmented reality, it’s becoming clear that B2B environments may, in fact, see more accurate applications of this technology as well as much larger tangible and realized value.
This has led to a growing set of visionary companies to start AR projects that explore utilizing the technology in the sales and marketing segment of the value chain. B2B products that are more often more substantial, more complex and harder to sell outside a physical space (i.e., showrooms, shop floor, plants, etc.) have the opportunity for significant ROI from the potential to insert AR technology into the sales process.
In the industrial and manufacturing space, innovators have recently introduced the concept of a “digital twin,” exploring the value of creating a digital version of a product that can be designed, re-designed, and virtually “poked and prodded” in the sales process at a fraction of the cost of creating the physical product.
Additionally, they become incredibly accessible to a broader audience of prospective customers. The idea of using a ‘digital-twin’ to create a virtual sales experience, not only increases the reach and speed to companies and customers but will also tangibly decrease costs of the sales process.
Creating an Immersive Sales Experience in Augmented Reality
Augmented reality will take this another step to put the digital product into a physical environment that facilitates a better B2B experience. The idea of selling products in the context in which they are used (or ‘in-situation’) is a significant element of proposed value for AR in B2B sales.
Imagine the power of seeing a tractor in a construction site, a conveyor layout in a plant, or medical equipment arranged to fit in an operating room. This ability will start to push the sales process of complex products outside of the constraints of brick-and-mortar and begin to establish the AR environment as the preferred point of sale experience.
We believe that this will start to eliminate barriers that exist in geography and capital by having “virtual” dealers that can be anywhere around the globe with the same personal and detailed consumer experience that lives in a traditional showroom or plant location.
Early adoption is already taking place in large manufacturing companies across the globe. Their initial investments in this space are seeing exponential returns, and are enabling them to outpace their competition through more engaging, connected and visual sales experiences.
As this momentum continues to grow, so will demand. As a result, the next big software categories to emerge will be based on the application of new AR technologies to specific domains, with one of those domains using augmented reality for B2B and B2C sales automation.
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