The Optician's Guide to AR and VR - Smart Vision Labs

Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies offer promising ways to raise the bar of quality customer experience. Each of these has unique potential applications and limitations and it is up to creative companies to decide which kind of interaction to offer.

Understanding the differences in these technologies is essential to applying them effectively. AR brings a virtual item into the real world and VR inputs you into the virtual world. Each has pros and cons, yet both can be beneficial when the technology’s strength aligns with a company’s goals.

The benefit of AR is that nearly everyone has access to a smartphone – probably the most straightforward way to interact with this technology. The downside is that AR also requires some kind of proprietary app or device. This requires relying on the customer to bother seeking it out which has proven unlikely.

VR basically reverses the pros and cons of AR. A single VR headset can interact with many different applications, effectively creating a single portal. However, the customer has to first have that VR headset.

Although their benefits and limitations are virtually opposite one another, in reality, they are used for rather different purposes. Which one is better depends more on the company’s specific use rather than the technology itself.

They are alike in that both offer ways for more personalized, higher quality customer experience. Supplementing real-life experiences with virtual information blurs the line between shopping in a brick-and-mortar store or visiting their website. VR and AR also bridge the gap in shopping experience for a business that operates entirely online.

AR Technology

Augmented reality brings digital elements into the real world. It supplements reality with computer-generated graphics, sounds, data, or other elements. AR is primarily a real-life experience as the virtual item uses the technology as a portal to enter our world.

AR can be implemented in any device that has the required hardware, such as a smartphone, or in a stand-alone technology, like smart glasses. The versatility and accessibility of AR tech is perhaps its greatest benefit.

Smartphones and similar computing tech (such as tablets and video game consoles) are able to utilize AR through a camera and a positioning sensor, such as a GPS or accelerometer. This allows the device to register its position or scan a code to allow the digital data to overlay itself in the real world where the person can interact with it.

Smart glasses are another technology where AR might showcase its potential. Applications for augmented reality glasses aren’t limited at this point. There are companies creating glasses to interact with 3D models of items and others which seek to display biofeedback, such as heart rate, right from the lens. And although smart glasses do require an additional investment from the consumer, they are also far more practical for real-world use. Despite the many articles capitalizing on the sometimes silly appearance of smart glasses, even at this early stage, they are much smaller and even streamlined when compared with the options for virtual reality users.

AR and VR in optical stores - Smart Vision Labs (source: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/hololens)
Microsoft HoloLens (source: Microsoft)

VR Technology

AR brings the digital world to you but virtual reality puts you into a created digital space. Using a VR headset transports you into whatever virtual scenario you decided to enter.

VR uses a headset and software to project the illusion that you are somewhere other than your living room. Exactly how the different models operate vary but all use the same basic hardware and software interactions. You put on the hardware (the VR headset) which runs off of a technology platform such as PC, smartphone, or video game console. The image enters the headset through a HDMI cable (in the case of the PC or console platforms) or from connecting the smartphone directly to the headset. Interacting with the virtual world can be done through the device tracking your body movements, your voice, or buttons on a controller or the headset itself.

Virtual reality can create such a convincing illusion by the proximity of the screen to your eyes. When you think of VR headset, what comes to mind is likely an HMD, a head mounted display. Because the screen is attached to your head and the device tracks your position, moving about in the real world will alter the view you have in the virtual one. Look up in real life, you’ll be looking at the sky in the digital world.

AR and VR guide for optical stores - Smart Vision Labs
Video Games in Virtual Reality (source: FluidCastVR)

The Consumer Experience Buying Glasses

Previously, there was only one way to have that question answered: bring someone with you to the optical store. Now, with the technologies of virtual reality and augmented reality, consumers can get an honest answer without even trying on the glasses.

VR and AR provide a highly personalized buying experience. While retailers have long known the benefits of placing the product in the consumer’s hands, these applications take that one step farther. Trying on frames can become like a private screening with the consumer, the tech, and the frames. The walls that usually exist in any selling situation, namely, the brick and mortar store, the time factor, and the presence of employees and other people, dissolve with VR and AR.

The consumer has the power to see their purchase, not only up close and personal but within their own reality that is not contingent on anyone else’s. These applications have the potential to forever change the eyeglasses buying experience.

Not only does the consumer have the power to put their possible purchase in their own hands, they have the power to do this anywhere and anytime. Yes, they will know conclusively whether the glasses look good on them. But even more importantly, they will be able to easily view all options simply by scrolling through a menu.

In a very effective way, these applications put the consumer and the product together like never before. The entire idea behind VR and AR is to blur the physical lines of reality and invite people to enter a world that seems as real as the one they can touch.

This technology has put into practice the overriding principle of the entire buying experience. Consumers purchase what they like, what they want, and what they can afford. And where do they get the answers to these questions? In their minds.

VR and AR have not only accepted the idea that the mind is the arena for making decisions; these applications have made this real. In an amazingly profound way, consumers can get a clearer understanding of what they should buy when they step into the reality construct. The data to make a decision is still there, yet the consumer doesn’t have to go anywhere in real-time to get it.

By answering the question, “How do these glasses look on me?” VR and AR have opened up another dimension in which choices can be seen more clearly. The retail experience just got more real.

The Optician’s Advantage

Opticians are utilizing the applications of virtual reality and augmented reality in ways that expand from selling to setting up. Opening a store is a huge financial investment which encompasses a lot of overlapping details and decisions. Wouldn’t it be great to see the final result before making a commitment?

Grab a virtual reality headset and see for yourself. VR and AR are able to take future business owners for a tour of their store before the key even turns in the lock. These applications can literally set up the entire store, from everything to light fixtures to shelving, and then populate it with stock. This visual awareness allows for clearer concepts of the use of space, the flow of traffic, and the placing of strategic displays.

By having an almost-working model of the store, opticians can effectively plan and use the available space. With a flick through the menu, the store can be rearranged. Business owners have long recognized the power of atmosphere in the buying experience. The most successful stores have a balance of ease and excitement. The consumer needs to reach out and touch the product but also wants a strong motivation to make a purchase.

Personalized shopping is at the top of business owners’ lists since everyone wants to feel like their purchase is important. This isn’t just narcissism; it’s a fact of retail. Whenever there is an exchange of dollars for a product, the consumer wants reassurance that the deal was at least equal. But to make it even better, tilt the purchase in favor of the customer by offering something else like an added bonus. Another aspect of personalized shopping is a decrease in returns. Listening to the consumer and reacting to their objections in-store lowers the probability of their dissatisfaction at home.

Through the use of this technology, optical store owners can literally visualize the entire process from walking through the doors to getting the receipt from the cash register. VR and AR can let them plan the buying experience and try out options and ideas.

In some ways, this is almost reminiscent of those video games where a player can create a village or farm. All of the details can be worked out without the physical presence of time, money, or construction. Only after the owner is completely happy will the actual reality of the store be set up.

VR and AR take the guesswork out of starting an optical store by showing owners what things will really look like.

AR and VR for buying glasses - Smart Vision Labs
Source: Factor-Tech

Looking into the Future with AR and VR

Although these technologies appear to be from the future, they currently exist and are making an impact in the retail world. Both consumers and opticians are seeing the potential of these applications as well as the benefits. VR and AR glasses and headsets are waiting for creative minds to apply their unique way to interact with the virtual world to solve existing problems and start new trends.

By creating a highly personalized shopping experience everyone wins; the role of the consumer is elevated and the business models enjoy less financial risk. While some people may think AR and VR are like a game, there is some truth to that. A virtual or augmented shopping experience can be played out in a type of parallel universe, but the reality is always present. The strategies used and the principles put into action have an actual counterpoint in reality.

Consumers, innovators, and established businesses all stand to benefit from using forward-thinking technologies like AR and VR. The junction of tech and real life is blurring, whether the idea is creating new products, updating existing ones, or just making life more convenient. VR and AR allow companies and consumers to take creative risks.

AR and VR make reality even easier to deal with.

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