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This summer, we saw millions of people leave their homes and head out into the wilds of their parks and neighborhoods — all in pursuit of virtual monsters. We speak, of course, of Pokemon GO, which for many individuals represented their first taste of augmented reality (AR). For many retailers, the sudden and startling success of Pokemon GO begs a very particular question — if a single AR application can convince millions of Americans to get up and walk for hours on end, what might it do for the workforce?

As it turns out, a new generation of workers is entering the labor force, and they’ve grown up using unimaginably advanced technology. From a cross-disciplinary point of view, we see that enabling workers with technology they’ve grown accustomed to can unlock extraordinary benefits. For example, when field service technicians are provided with high-technology assists, they’re able to achieve an 80% first-time fix rate.

Can AR technology help power similar gains in the field of retail?

One of the most common applications for augmented reality thus far has been assistance with the training or performance of complicated tasks. As an example, an experimental AR application for the US military has been developed to help technicians perform service on vehicles and equipment. The technician wears a pair of glasses with a built-in camera while working on a system. The glasses will identify the vehicle, throw a digital overlay for specific parts, and then provide instructions for installation, de-installation, and maintenance.

This system is similar to the one currently used by GM to train their factory workers — and it most likely won’t be long before it migrates to the retail, warehousing, and distribution side of the house. For an idea of a use-case for augmented reality in retail logistics, think of a day in the life of a typical warehouse worker. They’ll spend that day running between the corridors of a massive warehouse, as directed by mobile computer, picking items out of bins, scanning them, and then delivering them to a packing area.

How could augmented reality fix this? Imagine that instead of constantly looking down at a screen to find the best route through a warehouse, the optimal path to your destination is projected right in front of your eyes. Instead of holding a package up to a scanner, a worker could just look in a bin while their glasses automatically identify a tagged product. All throughout, the AR device would be in constant communication with managers, relaying the worker’s position, output, and even vital statistics such as their heart rate.

Top Performers Will Embrace Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is about as important in terms of metrics collection as it is with the assistance of tasks. Using the data collected by augmented reality devices, managers can further refine their workforce data, and develop a picture that allows them to identify their most productive employees and refine their best practices. According to research from Aberdeen Group, Best-in-Class companies are much more likely to identify and reward their standout workers.

The implications of augmented reality for workforce training also can’t be overstated. Top performers are much more likely to train their employees in multiple roles. Doing this means that they can reassign their employees to different tasks as opposed to sending them home if their staffing needs change during the day. AR technology won’t just reduce the training increment—it can also tremendously assist employees while they perform unfamiliar tasks.

Widespread adoption of AR technology is just over the horizon, but it isn’t quite here yet. For more information on how top performers are dominating retail in the present, take a look at the Aberdeen report, “Store-Level Workforce Scheduling for Profitable Omni-Channel Fulfilment.”

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