Augmented Reality may seem like it's all fun and games, but IKEA's new AR app, IKEA Place, is proving that this technology has practical business applications as well. IKEA Place was launched in September 2017 with the release of iOS 11. The app was built on Apple's ARKit, a framework that allows developers to create augmented reality apps for iPhone and iPad. ARKit will play a critical role in ushering in the era of AR by introducing the technology to millions of iOS users. Although many of the top ARKit apps that have been downloaded so far are games, IKEA Place, which exists to make shopping with the brand easier and more foolproof than ever before, is proving popular with users as well. With IKEA Place users can see how IKEA products will look in their homes before they actually go to the trouble to purchase and assemble the products. The app is easy to use - simply choose from over 2,000 IKEA products and hold up your device to see how the product will look in the space. Images are rendered in 3D and, according to IKEA, scale to space with 98% accuracy, so users can feel confident using the app to determine if a product will fit within the dimensions of a given space. Textures of products are also visible and respond to light and shade conditions within a space. The AR applications that get the most attention are usually the ones designed mostly for entertainment value. Think of Pokemon Go, Snapchat Lenses, and other AR games that spark interest by entertaining users. But even though IKEA's application of AR technology might seem relatively mundane at first glance, it's actually a sophisticated and genuinely useful consumer tool which has major implications for the future of retail. The IKEA Place app demonstrates 3 key benefits available to retailers who invest in developing AR experiences for their consumers.

1 - AR helps close the omnichannel gap

These days, virtually every business is looking for ways to make their marketing approach a more omnichannel one. Unifying consumer experience across digital and traditional channels, and finding ways to link one to the other, is a major challenge. Augmented reality apps are part of the solution. In the case of IKEA Place, AR places the brand's products in the consumer's home. It's a blending of the digital world and the real one, and it makes IKEA incredibly relevant on mobile. The mobile app drives users both to brick-and-mortar IKEA stores and to the website where many products can be purchased online.

2 - AR can improve the in-store experience

Shopping at IKEA is notoriously stressful, so much so that people often joke that going on an IKEA shopping trip as a couple can make or break the relationship. The reason the experience can be so fraught is that IKEA carries a huge inventory of products, and knowing which ones will look and fit best in a space is a challenge for shoppers. Taking a product home if you aren't sure it will look right is a risk because returning a sofa or a bed frame is a task few people relish. Not to mention that buying a piece of furniture you'll have to live with for years to come is actually a pretty high stakes endeavor for most shoppers. IKEA Place improves the in-store experience by helping users narrow down their shopping lists from the comfort and convenience of their own home. Users can then go into the store armed with a list of product options that they know will fit in their homes, making the final decision a matter of choosing between a handful of vetted options, as opposed to hundreds of untested ones. IKEA Place can help get users in and out of the store faster and with greater levels of satisfaction with the shopping experience.

3 - AR boosts e-commerce sales

Buying furniture and home decor online is, in many ways, far riskier for consumers than buying nearly any other product. For one thing, products are usually large and shipping is very rarely free, which means customers can pay high shipping fees for products they're not even sure will look good in their homes. Size and color can be particularly challenging to assess when shopping online, and these happen to be the two most important attributes of a furniture purchase. AR can help boost e-commerce by breaking down barriers to purchase. It answers customer questions about how things might look in real life, reducing uncertainties and making them more likely to complete a purchase. It's especially useful for big-ticket items that cost a lot to ship and may be difficult to return.

Where Is AR Headed?

Augmented reality has many potential applications in the retail sector. It's already being used by beauty retailers like Sephora and L'Oreal to allow users to see how different products will look on them. It can be used to create virtual fitting rooms, where users can see how clothes and accessories will look before they place an online order. It's even relevant in store, where it can demonstrate use cases for packaged products. Retailers looking to provide value to consumers would be wise to follow in IKEA's footsteps. AR is more accessible than ever, and as consumers become more accustomed to seeing it integrated into the apps they use, we can expect the demand for the technology to grow.