Augmented Reality

The term augmented reality (AR) originally may have been overshadowed in the public eye by virtual reality (VR); however, its technology is more frequently being intertwined in everyday life. Apps like Pokémon GO and IKEA Place are filling our phones with content equipped with AR technology to help elevate its use. AR adds new components into a space of pre-existing objects in the real world. Blending physical and virtual worlds in real-time further simulates an immersive environment, making applications of AR valuable to marketers, educators, entertainers, and engineers. Funding for research is a promising inkling into the growth of AR technology, with the industry expected to reach $7.9 billion by 2023 globally (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Implementing AR into research has a lot of potential, thus having a foundational understanding of what it is and how it impacts research designs is vital for fresh innovation.   

How does augmented reality work?

AR can be defined as a form of mixed reality which aligns both real and virtual objects within the same dimensions of space and time (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Most people associate AR with changing the visual environment; however, when reality is being augmented, it is not confined to one sensory experience. Visuals, sounds, vibrational movements and smells can all contribute to an augmented reality. The original intention of AR use was for fields such as the military, medicine and industry, but it has now expanded to gaming, retail and commerce (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019).

VR covers every pixel within a visual environment (creating an entirely new environment separate from reality), while AR enhances the natural current environment with the superposition of additional context, such as music or text (and can include any number of sensory environmental additions from audible to visual, smell, taste, and haptics). AR may overlay a video-feed of reality, share the real-world perception with transparent filters and/or project AR onto real displays (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). The displays are projected via headpieces, cellphones, tablets, laptops, or projectors (such as flashlights, holographs, etc.). The versatility of AR inspires a lot of potential opportunities to deliver a valuable experience within multiple disciplines.

Possibilities Are Endless

Developing simple and easy integration of AR into daily life helps make the technology more ubiquitous. Currently the three main applications of augmented reality are online, in-store and mobile:

  • Online: The use of a webcam allows consumers to scan both their bodies and movements to have a virtual fitting-room. Consumers can immediately see the look of the outfits on the screen and have the agency to change sizes, colors, and styles quickly. Zenni Optical has a “Virtual Try-On” which integrates pupil distance information to display how frame styles look on consumers’ faces. By taking a 3D picture, consumers can view the different frames scaled to fit. 
  • In-store: To engage consumers while in the store, videos and projectors are used to personalize the experience via AR. Cosmetic brands, such as Sephora, superimpose different make-up products on consumers via an “augmented mirror.” Similarly, dressing rooms with AR technology have been adopted by retail stores. The “augmented mirror” allows consumers to visualize how potential new clothes look on their bodies without changing their initial outfits. With the augmented mirror, the consumer can mix and match outfits from the store’s inventory, compare pictures of different clothes and share potential choices quickly with friends (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Having an AR in-store experience is interactive, informative and versatile, giving consumers ease in exploring a multitude of options in an efficient manner.   
  • Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR): Most consumers utilize a smartphone, camera, or tablet within their daily lives. Many companies turned to mobile apps as a way to connect with consumers more intimately. With the AR technology embedded in the app, consumers can try products in the places where they will be utilized, whether that be trying on an outfit at home or buying new décor for an office space. Self-augmentation increases the interaction the brand has with the consumer (Caboni & Hagberg, 2019). Snapchat has monetized on MAR by offering sponsored filters from companies ranging from Applebee’s Bar and Grill to Disney’s Frozen II. These initiatives break down the barrier between the brand and a consumer’s personal space, thus making it easier to integrate an item from a store to home.  

The three main approaches of augmented reality are applicable to many industries. Doctors use AR for training and operating purposes, while it provides patients with medicine reminders (Chen et al., 2019). AR navigation or warning displays guide individuals through a visitor experience in places like historic sites to large malls (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Retail also uses AR to share a plethora of information about any product without even opening the package. Additionally, the technology allows consumers to explore multiple products in various styles quickly while giving companies an idea of which features are preferred.

What does AR look like in Marketing Research?

The goal when exploring any new technology for market research focuses on whether its application can help better understand consumers. Integrating AR with qualitative research, such as a shop-along, allows for a full, uninterrupted experience of consumer decisions. Insight into consumer preference is also easily done with AR research since different prototypes can be redesigned quickly. Likewise, getting data on predominant categories selected from augmented facts or values about a product can give an indication of consumers points of concern. As a new form of research, AR will only continue to become more prevalent as technology advances and consumers are normalized to it. Furthermore, the balance of entertainment, education, esthetic and escapism promotes consistent engagement during AR experiences, thus encouraging market researchers to dive into its applications in research design.

Market research can easily utilize AR for exposure to various stimuli without changing the physical environment. An empty space is a blank canvas for anything to be programmed into an AR device for researchers to build upon. Using the AR system ensures each condition is presented uniformly from the same perspective. Product development and concept testing can be effectively created and brought to life via AR, providing a feel of the product in relationship to the environment. Furthermore, AR sets the stage for exploring multiple conditions easily. Rather than create several physical prototypes of a package, AR can program different stimuli for the participant to experience quickly. Imagine- shelf testing may not need to include shelves! The changes can range from small adjustments to entirely new designs. These conveniences streamline translating research findings into plans for improvement, while also saving time and energy dedicated to the framework set-up.

Some forms of AR research can also be done remotely, affording participants the opportunity to experience certain stimuli in intimate environments, such as their homes. The boundaries between the participant and location of use dissolves in this application. Being in a more natural space may encourage participants to provide feedback more comfortably. Furthermore, by overlapping real and virtual worlds, consumers can easily manipulate where the virtual product is placed. Having the environmental context fit the participant’s real lifestyle helps determine if a product or concept fits or disrupts established preferences. Pairing AR with other additional qualitative or quantitative research methods allows researchers to further evaluate behavior and reactions of various stimuli from a new perspective.   

Hearing out some Hesitations

Misuse of any technology can result in negative consequences. Reality is compromised to a degree when using AR, which can result in causing individuals to be less vigilant in acknowledging their surroundings. Additionally, augmented components may distract from reality. Alarms or car horns can easily be confused with augmented features, which could be detrimental for research and take away from the intended experience. Having a third party to supervise may be a helpful precaution; however, that is not always feasible. Informative concept forms and disclaimers should be utilized prior to the AR experience to remind users of the potential dangers. Like with anything, the overuse of AR in extreme cases can lead to disassociation of reality. Finding a healthy balance in understanding personal habits will make introducing AR into certain components of life a safe and easy transition. Considerations for usage should be considered when developing a screener for a research project including AR.

Since the implementation of AR on popular platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, AR has become generally socially acceptable; however, it may have some critics concerned about privacy and data breaches. These concerns must also be addressed when recruiting participants.

Unfortunate technical drawbacks of AR also include requiring higher accuracy, wider input variety and longer ranges when compared to other virtual environments (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Depth perception is a challenge within the interface while developing the graphics. Consideration for programming and developing the correct type of immersion does not come cheap. The technical expertise of programing AR designs can be cost prohibitive, especially if it involves an intricate design. Determining the value AR may bring to a company is subjective based on the objectives in integrating this novel technology.

The response to implementing AR into different industries or the use of AR in market research can be analyzed with various psychological tools, such as an implicit association test or a self-assessment manikin (SAM). Advancements in AR research also suggests integrations of applied consumer science technology, such as eye tracking or heart rate. Using these tools can elevate research exploration as well as consumer responses to novel technology.

Concluding Thoughts

AR seeks to enhance the user experience by providing tools to make theoretical situations easier to comprehend. Whether used by researchers or consumers, AR gives stimulation testing a new medium. Learning consumer preference and behavior for companies to digest encourages future innovations. AR builds a personalized relationship with the user, ultimately increasing engagement.

The future of AR is budding, with new progressions making the technology more adoptable. For instance, hardware is evolving to make headsets more user-friendly. Other potential opportunity designs include merging AR and VR together to create a device capable of alternating between VR and AR. Product development, packaging testing, concept testing and other facets of the consumer experience can benefit from the integration of AR. Multiple iterations of a stimuli can be designed faster to improve existing prototypes, while combining AR with projective research gives consumers the opportunity to virtually create their ideal products for the R+D team to build upon. Interacting in the AR environment brings the user closer to the augmented object, whether it be a consumer product or experience. The growing trend of AR will continue to bring about creative content to interact with users and ultimately strengthen a relationship through convenient, exciting and valuable engagement.

To learn about innovative ways HCD can help you design strong research methodologies to connect with consumers, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net)


References:

Caboni, F., & Hagberg, J. (2019). Augmented reality in retailing: a review of features, applications and value. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management.

Chen, Y., Wang, Q., Chen, H., Song, X., Tang, H., & Tian, M. (2019, June). An overview of augmented reality technology. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1237, No. 2, p. 022082). IOP Publishing.

Van Krevelen, D. W. F., & Poelman, R. (2010). A survey of augmented reality technologies, applications and limitations. International journal of virtual reality9(2), 1-20.