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10 Ways Grocery Retailers Can Use Augmented Reality

Part 1 of 2-part series addresses in-store experiences

In part one of this two-part series, we’ll consider the ways that in-store augmented-reality (AR) grocery experiences can produce real bottom-line results for your retail grocery business. In part two, we’ll do the same for out-of-store AR retail grocery experiences.

AR adoption has exploded over the past two years. In 2021 alone, 93.3 million people used augmented reality at least once per month, according to eMarketer. That’s 28.1% of the U.S. population across all age groups — and adoption is growing steadily.

This makes sense when you consider the fact that, beyond engaging and memorable entertainment, today’s AR experiences are also really useful.

In a study analyzing 5G phone users, Ericsson Emodo found that two-thirds of respondents who identified as “later adopters” asked for more AR advertising over traditional formats. These are people who don’t consider themselves to be tech-savvy — and even may be unfamiliar with the term “augmented reality” — but immediately realized the benefits of augmented reality when presented with the ability to do things like place virtual furniture in their homes and virtually try-on products.

This shift to utility, along with the proliferation of AR-enabled mobile phones and 5G connectivity, represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for grocery brands to radically change the way customers shop in their stores and experience their brands.

Together, these concepts will help you improve key aspects of customer experience, increase brand loyalty and achieve real business value — both inside and outside of your stores.

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Publix High-Res
(Source: Jim Jackson Creative)

1. Increase Purchases of Private Label Grocery Products With AR Packaging and Virtual Try On

From wine to cereal boxes, cans and beyond, many of the brands on your shelves today already use AR packaging to stand out from the pack.

This makes it harder for private label brands to compete, particularly in inflation-resistant categories like alcohol and beverages and beauty and personal care, where preference is high for national brands.

Consider using augmented reality to make your private label products physically “pop out” from shelves to offer engaging retail experiences. All shoppers need to do is look through their smartphone cameras while perusing the aisle. This works especially well if your private label brand features animated characters, but AR can bring custom-branded environments to life as well.

Take, for example, Publix, which recently used an AR experience to relaunch its private label products.

[Read more: "Going Private: How to Succeed in Store-Brand Sector"]

For beauty and personal care products, consider virtual try-ons as part of your in-store and e-commerce strategies. The national beauty brands lining your shelves already offer it — and consumers love it — so it’s wise to pay attention to that trend.

According to a recent Snapchat report, which surveyed 4,028 shoppers between the ages of 13 and 49, 69% of respondents said that they’re likely to buy beauty products after using an AR experience in the future. Seventy percent responded similarly for retail, and 60% for food and beverages.

Furthermore, 80% of respondents feel more confident in their purchases using AR tools, which have the added benefit of significantly reducing product returns.

Giant High-Res
(Source: Giant Food Stores)

2. Promote Sale, Specialty and/or Seasonal Grocery Products 

Augmented reality makes it easy to turn your weekly circular into a physical in-store retail experience. Imagine scanning the isles with your smartphone camera and seeing virtual coupons pop up in front of items that are on sale that day.

Or why not create a holiday winter wonderland within which your customers can discover limited-availability specialty products around the store?

Giant Food Stores recently offered shoppers such a web-based AR retail experience in which customers could use their smartphones to play the Snowflake Search game and earn reward points.

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Ingredients High-Res
(Source: DesignTech)

3. Create Easy, Personalized AR Grocery Shopping Experiences

According to the McKinsey’s “The State of Grocery in North America” report, post-COVID consumers are seeking ways to save money while focusing on healthy eating and nutrition. Personalization is also more important than ever, the report found.

How many more customers would choose your store over a competitor if they could hold their phone up to a shelf and find products that meet their needs instantly?

Wondering which cereal is gluten-free? Which butter is low in saturated fat? Which products contain soy? Simply look through your phone camera, and products matching your shopping list requirements can be highlighted, perhaps along with private label equivalents.

Or aim your smartphone camera at fruits, vegetables and meats to learn their back story, including the sustainable farms from which they came and their journey to the supermarket.

Not only do these sorts of interactions dramatically improve customer experiences by eliminating the frustrating “product hunt” and helping shoppers make informed, nutritious food choices, but they also provide a direct way to secure first-party customer data that can then be used to further personalize shopping experiences over subsequent visits and online.

Waffles Mochi High-Res
(Source: Walmart)

4. Increase Grocery Sales With AR Retail Experiences for Parents and Children

Happy kids make for happy parents, and happy parents spend more time in the store purchasing more products.

With 65% of augmented reality users over the age of 25, it’s safe to assume that many have recently or will soon become parents. What if you could use augmented reality to make grocery shopping more enjoyable for both kids and parents?

Walmart recently accomplished just this by using augmented reality to create a Waffles + Mochi gamified AR experience.

5. Increase Advertising Effectiveness and Recall by Bringing Ad Characters to Life In-Store 

Augmented reality can also extend the life and effectiveness of grocery advertising campaigns by bringing mascots, characters — and even entire branded environments from your ads — into your stores to interact with customers.

Imagine characters from your current ad campaign helping shoppers navigate your stores, find certain products or play treasure-hunt style games to earn loyalty points. With today’s technologies, this and more is already possible. You can also partner with national brands for special promotions by bringing their characters to life for similar in-store AR experiences. Beyond providing truly memorable entertainment, this keeps these brands in the minds of consumers while they shop.

You’re not relegated to the middle of the aisle, either: End caps and strategically placed cardboard cutouts are also fantastic locations for AR retail experiences.

As you can see, augmented reality provides innovative and wide-ranging opportunities to create real business impact inside your store.

In part two of this series, we will illustrate the vast potential of augmented reality for out-of-store retail grocery experiences.

About the Author

Matthew Donaruma

Matthew Donaruma advises across communications, content and brand strategy at Optic Sky, a Rochester, N.Y.-based advertising and digital experience production company that creates augmented-reality, virtual-reality, commercial and virtual production experiences for global brands and agencies.
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