In its latest report, IBM has predicted that the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the transition to digital shopping by approximately five years.

Citing the study, Harvard Business Review acknowledges that Covid-19 has ‘supercharged’ all-things virtual, propelling sectors such as retail into the future.

Specifically, the pandemic has given rise to augmented reality (AR) applications which are providing shoppers with ‘try before you buy’ experiences. Shoppers are able to virtually preview furniture in their home with IKEA, for instance, or virtually try on clothes from luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. 

Indeed, AR has shifted from a nice-to-have tool to become an essential technology for retail brands looking to survive and thrive in today’s climate.

Virtual make up

Hygiene and safety are understandably a top priority now that brick-and-mortar stores have opened again. Some beauty retailers – like Ulta and Sephora – have banned shoppers from testing makeup on their skin, instead harnessing AR so they can virtually trial thousands of potential items and make informed buying decisions.

Ulta released its virtual try-on tool, GLAMlab, four years ago, but usage has soared since the start of the pandemic. Over 50 million foundation shades have been digitally swatched with the app, with engagement increasing seven-fold.

Consumer demand

In a global survey carried out last year, Nielsen discovered that consumers view AR and virtual reality (VR) as the main technologies they’re seeking to support them in their day-to-day lives, with 51% saying they’d be interested in using these technologies to assess products. That figure is likely to be much higher today, with AR now considered to resolve genuine pain points for consumers, especially during the pandemic. 

Shopify recently shared data showing that interactions with products which are supported with AR content have a 94% higher conversion rate compared with products which don’t. 

Brands have also started to harness AR to re-envision the digital shopping experience with virtual shop fronts. Back in May, retailer Kohl paired up with Snapchat for the launch of its AR Virtual Closet, where shoppers use the Snapchat app on their smartphones to step inside an AR changing room, mix and match products and even make purchases. 

Products available to buy in the Closet are constantly updated based on shopper needs and time of year. It was launched with key spring styles, then moved to a range of active and athleisure products as consumers looked for comfortable clothes to work from home. 

Levi’s has also complemented its AR offering with platforms such as Squad, a co-watching video platform which allows friends to shop together. The app was released with the aim of recreating some of those tangible, group experiences we’ve come to miss since the pandemic struck.

What next? 

AR’s next phase could be gamified social experiences. Burberry recently teamed up with Snapchat to launch an in-store AR game, and the concept could soon roll out to digital shop fronts and virtual closets where people can play, discover and shop with friends. 

The ties in with a current trend many fashion and beauty brands are exploring: mobile arcade games. This format is helping these retailers connect with new, younger shoppers – just take Burberry’s ‘B Surf’ racing game, which featured AR face filters and characters as prizes. 

Another trend that’s also emerging is the idea of virtual goods as commodities. Louis Vuitton, for instance, is selling virtual merchandise in the form of digital skins, which are branded accessories and clothing to dress characters with. 

More brands may experiment with this idea in future; selling virtual items – such as clothing, art and jewellery – for which there isn’t a physical counterpart. In this way, virtual items could be a way for shoppers to engage with, test and even own part of a brand that may not be accessible otherwise. 

At The Delta Group, in addition to our manufacturing of quality printed marketing display materials, we also provide a wide range of digital solutions including AR content generation and we have built a technology platform for centralised control of digital screen content across a retail estate. If you need some assistance embracing technologies and solutions that meet the needs of today’s consumers, please email