Top 5 Augmented Reality Trends for 2022

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Augmented reality is clearly becoming more and more popular. From just over 500 million mobile augmented reality users worldwide in 2020 to 810 million last year (according to Statista), we’ve seen massive and sustained adoption of this cutting-edge technology. By 2022, an estimated 1.1 billion people will be using AR on their phones alone.

Much of this surge is the result of necessity: the impact of the pandemic and the global shift to online shopping have caused thousands of stores to close. For brands that weathered this turbulent period, it became painfully obvious that innovation was key to staying relevant. As a result, more companies started investing in AR technology, no doubt inspired by tech giants that are heavily pushing this space, and as this landscape evolves, the more AR trends to keep an eye on.

Here are the five most important:

1. AR NFTs and the Metaverse

Though industry analysts and executives have been predicting the coming of the metaverse for years, it didn’t last until October 2021 — when Facebook renamed to “Meta” – that the term reached the full consciousness of the population. Facebook’s decision to pour billions of dollars into virtual and augmented reality has made it clear to everyone, not just techies, that the metaverse is the “next big thing.”

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term or need a refresher, the Metaverse is a shared digital environment overlaid on top of the real world. The idea is that one day, through Metaverse-friendly devices like mobile apps and smart glasses, we’ll be able to inhabit virtual spaces in the form of an avatar that looks just like us, or show up as a hologram in our friend’s living room (or in the office or cafe).

Non-fungible tokens (or NFTs for short) will play an integral role in the Metaverse, both in terms of how we access it and, perhaps more importantly what we can own there.

As digital one-offs, NFTs signify ownership of one-of-a-kind items that can be anything from digital artwork and limited-edition sneakers to essays or in-game items. Some NFTs contain elements of augmented reality, creating an immersive experience for the user. (For example, by allowing them to see a digital object around them or on their body.)

Last year we saw a lot of brands experimenting with NFTs. For example, the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, published NFT arcade cabinets that users can view in 3D in their own homes. Similarly, American heritage and sportswear brand Original Penguin auctioned eight NFT penguin avatars for users to visualize in AR before purchasing.

Also last year, luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana released Collezione Genesi, an AR wearables NFT collection, which grossed the brand nearly $6 million. While some items in the collection were physical (but came with a virtual counterpart), others, like The Impossible Tiara, existed solely in digital space. Meanwhile, insurance company State Farm launched a virtual treasure hunt where users could find 500,000 soccer balls using their phones and trade them in for NFTs, gift cards and autographed merchandise. Once a user found a soccer ball in a game, it was no longer visible to other players, and all players who completed the first level of the game received an NFT, as well as a chance to win other limited edition copies.

Based on last year’s level of activity in these areas, we can expect more and more brands to launch NFTs in 2022, when the metaverse gets even closer to reality.

Related: Some predictions about how the Metaverse will affect our lives

2. AR live stream shopping will take off

Live stream shopping is already widespread in China and is now taking the western world by storm.

Described by Sprout Social as “a mix of video stream, variety show and group chat”, it is increasingly being used by brands to promote and sell products through e-commerce apps and social media platforms such as Amazon Live or Instagram Live.

These shoppable live streams are usually led by influencers who demonstrate and describe a product. The audience can ask them questions and interact with each other in real time (e.g. asking for each other’s opinion). For brands, hosting shoppable live streams offers a number of benefits, including the ability to eliminate physical stores (or at least reduce their reliance on physical stores) and speed up the sales process.

However, a major disadvantage is that, unlike visiting a physical store, customers do not have the opportunity to try on items when watching someone demonstrate products online. Augmented reality live stream shopping could change that. YouTube already allows creators to enable Beauty Try-On, an AR ad format that lets viewers try on beauty products virtually through a split screen while watching makeup tutorials and reviews. Expanding this capability to live streams is a natural next step, and one we’ll likely see in 2022, especially considering that 80% of marketers are now realizing the potential of video streaming, according to advertising services and software company Mediaocean.

3. Spread of 3D/AR on self-service e-commerce platforms

Not only big brands are investing in 3D/AR technology. Today, even individual merchants and small businesses can create augmented reality product previews on self-service ecommerce platforms like Shopify. While Shopify launched its AR feature back in 2018, the ecommerce platform has recently started working more towards AR integration. By highlighting brands that are already using AR (successfully) and publishing reports and research demonstrating the power of AR in e-commerce, Shopify has made this once obscure (and expensive) technology universal.

Through its marketplace of 3D modeling partners, a 3D warehouse app for storing 3D models, and an easy way to add AR Quick Look support to its merchant stores, Shopify makes AR accessible to businesses with the tightest of budgets . Other platforms currently also offering AR capabilities to merchants include Magento, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Etsy.

Related: Having a social presence is not enough. How do consumers experience your brand with augmented reality?

4. Rise of the Phygital retail experience.

According to a 2021 IBM study, 73% of people who used to frequent malls are eager to return to physical stores. While this may seem like an encouraging statistic for offline retailers, there is some bad news as well, namely:

• About 1 in 4 shoppers in the US and UK do not feel safe when shopping in-store.

• About 40% of American adults say they enjoy shopping in-store much less now than they did before the pandemic (15% say their enjoyment has decreased at least somewhat).

• Just over 4 in 10 millennials do not expect to return to physical stores once the pandemic is over.

As online sales continue to grow, retailers will have no choice but to reconsider the in-store shopping experience if they want to win customers back, and consumers are already showing a strong preference for stores that offer novel shopping experiences. A study by Snapchat, for example, found this out a fifth of consumers would go out of their way to visit a store with smart mirrors (or “magic mirrors”) and interactive screens that show them how a particular makeup, hair color, or outfit would look on them. Younger shoppers are even more drawn to digital technology in physical spaces: about a third of Gen Z shoppers would bother visiting a store equipped with smart mirrors.

Smart mirrors and digital screens are a great example of ‘physical’ retail experiences (ie mixed customer experiences that are both physical and digital). An unforeseen side effect of the pandemic has been the reluctance of customers to try on items in-store. As brands look for ways to make people feel safer, we expect smart mirrors to become more important.

In the future, brands will increasingly turn to other AR and 3D technologies that help enable this new type of experience. For example, they could also use virtual avatars in the near future (see Ralph Laurens Snapchat Bitmojis) to let customers “try on” the product catalog in store or at home.

Related: How to build brand loyalty through augmented reality

5. More and more brands are using 3D search results on Google

Retailers adding 3D and AR experiences to product pages is nothing new: from IKEA to Warby Parker to Sephora, we’ve seen many doing so, and with great success. In fact, Shopify research has shown that products with AR content a 94% higher conversion rate than products that do not have such items.

While this tactic certainly pays off, it’s important to note that not all customers go directly to a retailer’s online store. Google’s own research found that half of shoppers search for a product on Google to find out some other way before making a decision to buy. But what if a potential customer, when they searched for your product on Google, showed them a 3D version on the results page that they could view in AR in their home with the click of a button? Instead of having to do extensive research on an item, they could just “place” it in their own environment to take a better look and decide if it would work.

Google rolled out this feature back in 2019, but aside from fashion house Burberry, watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, and more recently department store chain Kohl’s, remarkably few brands have made use of it so far.

In 2022 and beyond, we expect businesses to use 3D search results to better serve customers who are more accustomed to online shopping.

Related: A Guide to Using Augmented Reality for Ecommerce and Retail

Stay up to date with trends

2021 was undoubtedly the year that both brands and users started paying real attention to AR and the possibilities it could bring. With more companies investing in this technology than ever before, and a growing number of users knowing AR beyond filters, it’s now a must-have for anyone looking to prepare and secure their business for the future.

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