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How SMEs benefit from Augmented Reality

October 1, 2021
min read

Augmented reality for SMEs

Commercial use of augmented reality exploded the last two years and, though AR is not a new technology, companies are finding more and more uses for this type of digital content. AR technology has become especially valuable in supporting businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Social distancing, restricted travel, furloughed staff and lack of training have all severely impacted global industries and AR has offered an unprecedented solution in that it allows businesses to connect with customers and staff remotely. AR is set to continue contributing to business operations beyond the pandemic.

Online platforms are making it easier for brands to add augmented reality to their offering; Facebook’s new online tool, Spark AR, offers a user-friendly way to create AR content without needing coding experience, Shopify allows merchants to create 3D models of their products, and Snapchat and Instagram have AR features. Mobile AR has been particularly innovative recently, refining its open source augmented reality development tools to make them more accessible. Apple has released its updated ARKit 4, and Google’s competing ARCore technology has also undertaken significant improvements. Thanks to this increased functionality, AR-capable devices and their users have dramatically increased and the augmented reality market is now projected to grow from $6.12 billion in 2021 to $97.76 billion in 2028.

How AR can benefit SMEs

Though people may assume that augmented reality is an expensive, complicated technology reserved for big corporations, smaller companies actually have a lot to gain by using it to fulfil their business needs. After all, in order to be successful, startups and SMEs ought to be pushing boundaries and overtaking their competitors. Adopting mixed reality technology can be a great way to grow a business, here are some of the key benefits:

Improved customer experience

Augmented reality apps offer brands the opportunity to interact three-dimensionally with their customers through their mobile phones, adding value at every stage of their purchasing journey. AR can help to remove uncertainty in the decision-making process by providing extra information. For example, incorporating interactive packaging technology to a food or drink product could allow customers to scan the wrapper and access digital content that tells them more about the ingredients and provenance of the product. This research stage results in lower returns rates, as customers are less likely to be disappointed.

Retained customer loyalty and engagement

Maintaining customer relationships is an important factor for any business’s growth. Consumers today are quick to switch between products and services, meaning innovative engagement solutions are needed. The good news is that users find AR experiences 70% more memorable that non-AR experiences and, of course, the more a consumer remembers a brand, the more likely they are to buy from them.

Smart marketing

With technology booming, and consumers becoming increasingly reliant on their mobile phones for information, augmented reality experiences are the future of marketing. Small companies can really set themselves apart from the competition by using AR technology in a very simple way. For example, enriching existing content assets such as flyers cards and brochures with digital AR content can really enhance customer interaction and strengthen their brand.

Streamlining business process

As well as improving customer relations, AR can also help to increase in-house efficiencies. For example, immersive technology can be used as a blended learning solution to keep staff engaged, adding excitement to existing training and onboarding programmes. In manufacturing industries, AR glasses can help to streamline the production line, projecting instructions so that workers can perform tasks as directed by the digital content and even check emails without having to consult a device. And in construction industries, AR can be used to give key stakeholders virtual tours which showcase building developments.

AR project planning for SMEs

It’s a good idea for small business owners to do some research and planning before starting an AR project, educating themselves about how AR works and outlining their goals, expectations and timeline. Building an AR function will require getting together a skilled team to write the main code architecture, create the application design, and test its usability. The cost of the project will depend on its complexity and who is employed to execute it. Contract coders, developers and designers can be found on freelancing platforms such as Upwork and Guru and taken in-house, or professional AR agencies are available for hire, which could work out more costly yet save on project management time.

If budgets are restricted, there are user-friendly online AR tools which are often free or have a small subscription fee. The design tool, genARate Studio, for example, can add an interactive layer to printed materials and help SMEs that aren’t trained in programming to create AR experiences.

Software development kits, or SDKs can be particularly helpful to SMEs that are embarking on an AR project as they simplify the coding phase, allowing developers to speed up the production of an AR project and therefore lower costs. It’s best to thoroughly research the options first because different SDKs have different functions. Wikitude is one of the most popular frameworks, Vuforia known for its Enterprise integrations and Kudan is focusing on SLAM based location mapping.

Once SMEs have completed one AR project successfully, the multiple applications of how augmented reality can be incorporated into their business will become apparent. Advances in AR technology will only mean that it becomes more commonplace, so it’s important to stay ahead of the curve.

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