Snapchat has emerged as a frontrunner in the augmented reality (AR) shopping revolution, offering retailers a comprehensive suite of tools to transform the customer experience and boost sales.

In this interview, Fintan Gillespie, director, UK Large Client Solutions at Snap, delves into how Snapchat’s AR technology is reshaping retail.

A suite of tools for seamless AR integration

“Snapchat has brought to market a vast range of innovative AR tools and features that have enabled brands to seamlessly integrate AR into their retail experiences, marketing strategies, websites, and consumer apps,” says Gillespie.

These tools empower brands to create engaging AR experiences that cater to a variety of needs:

Virtual Try-On: This flagship feature eliminates the need for physical products by allowing users to virtually try on clothes and accessories using photos.

“Users can take a photo of themselves to try on AR outfits anytime, anywhere,” explains Gillespie.

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Snap 3D Asset Manager: Streamlining the AR development process, Snap 3D Asset Manager simplifies 3D model creation for any product, allowing brands to quickly and easily integrate their products into AR experiences.

Ray Tracing: For luxury goods such as jewellery and watches, realism is paramount. Ray Tracing enhances the realism of light and shadow, making virtual products appear even more lifelike.

AR Mirrors: Bringing AR technology to the physical shop floor, AR Mirrors allows in-store customers to virtually try on products, further enhancing the shopping experience.

Success stories and the challenges of scaling up

Gillespie highlights several examples of retailers leveraging Snapchat AR to great effect.

Specsavers’ unique AR try-on lens targeted at spectacle wearers led to “increased brand awareness and association” while luxury watch brand Fossil’s virtual try-on campaign for new watch collections resulted in a surge in swipe-ups, shares, and direct purchases with “68,000 swipe-ups and 60,900 shares […], leading to an increase in direct purchases.”

Leading beauty brands such as NYX, MAC, e.l.f. Cosmetics, and Maybelline are all using AR to allow customers to experiment with makeup virtually before buying while consumer packaged goods brands, including McDonald’s, Heineken, Lipton, and Burger King, are utilising AR to boost brand awareness, sales, and footfall.

“Rimmel London’s recent AR campaign for its ‘Thrill Seeker Mascara’ saw impressive engagement with a 14-second average playtime and 5.6 million impressions from a dedicated Snapchat Lens,” said Gillespie.

Innovation extends beyond online experiences. JD Sports’ ‘Forever Forward’ campaign used AR to animate its iconic yellow duffle bag across locations while ASOS’ physical pop-up store offered an immersive AR catwalk experience and AR mirrors for virtual try-on, demonstrating the potential of AR to enhance in-store experiences.

However, Gillespie acknowledges that with the growing popularity of AR, scalability remains a key challenge for retailers.

“Scalability will continue to be a key consideration for retailers, requiring the implementation of robust backend systems and strategies to differentiate their offering in such a competitive landscape,” he says.

Snap, however, is well-positioned to address this challenge.

“We work hand in hand with partners in designing user-friendly AR experiences that enhance the consumer shopping journey,” assures Gillespie, highlighting its commitment to collaboration and ensuring seamless integration with existing systems.

AR’s impact on sales and looking ahead

Studies have shown that AR can significantly boost conversion rates.

Gillespie emphasises the significant impact of AR on a retailer’s bottom line: “Research shows that shoppers using AR have a 94% higher conversion rate and are 66% less likely to return items – a significant advantage considering the high costs associated with returns, which amount to about £7bn [$8.79bn] annually in Britain alone.”

Snapchat’s vast reach, particularly among Gen Z, positions it perfectly to capitalise on AR’s potential.

“Snapchat reaches over 90% of 13-24-year-olds and 75% of 13-34-year-olds across the UK, […]. Moreover, more than 300 million people engage with AR on Snapchat every day,” highlights Gillespie.

Looking ahead, Gillespie envisions a future where AR is not just a creative option but a retail necessity: “With our cutting-edge AR technology, Snapchat has already revolutionised the retail industry by offering a more personalised, accessible, and convenient shopping experience.”

According to Gillespie, studies indicate that by 2025, nearly 75% of the global population will be frequent AR users, solidifying AR’s place in the future of retail.

Gillespie concludes by outlining how AR integration will evolve: “AR integration within physical stores will also continue to become a more seamless experience, with AR enhancing in-store navigation, product discovery, and customisation.”

In the long run, AR experiences will offer consumers “more personalised product recommendations based on their preferences and behaviour,” creating tailored shopping journeys that benefit both retailers and consumers.

“As technology advances, retailers will leverage AR for even more immersive storytelling, bridging the gap between physical and digital shopping realms to offer unparalleled convenience, personalisation, and innovation,” concludes Gillespie.