AUGMENTED REALITY: NEXT-GENERATION SERVICE SUPPORT
Digital tools that integrate virtual content in real situations expand our perception and can be a rich and meaningful addition to the natural senses. This is also something that bike retail can benefit from – for both sales and service.
Virtually everyone has some experience of Augmented Reality (AR), whether they know it or not. The futuristic goggles, used for example for computer simulations, are just one well-known illustration. However, there are many other examples, such as enhancing football television coverage by showing the distance of a free kick or projecting a navigation system directly onto a car’s windscreen. Using smartphones to combine virtuality and reality is becoming more and more popular. Objects can be simply be scanned to see them in a 3D context, enabling (near) real-time interaction. Some 13 per cent of all Germans are said to have used AR on their mobile phones in 2020 – twice as much as in 2019. Even publications such as the highly-regarded Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung used Augmented Reality for their special edition on 2 October 2020. Barriers between print and digital media are melting and merging with the increasing use of video material, audio podcasts, 3D animation and interactive graphics. For advertising customers, this opens up new possibilities to present their advertisements in a whole new dimension.
“We’re all about high tech and design. And there will be more smart features to discover in future”
Swedish home furnishing giant IKEA demonstrated the potential for companies some years back. They made it possible to scan an item in their catalogue with a smartphone and then see it virtually in your own front room. Does that red sofa really go with the rest of my furniture? The app provides a 3D answer to such questions. Bike park systems manufacturer WSM offers a similar app. By scanning a QR code, a bike park system can be shown three-dimensionally on a smartphone. The tool allows municipal planners or business owners to see a detailed visual impression of a product – including interactive elements. Kid’s bike specialist Puky even set up an additional virtual showroom for new products. The company used it to present them in full detail to retailers, while its field sales force was unable to travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bike manufacturer Vanmoof also implemented a similar project at the start of the year. The Dutch company has significantly increased its online sales in recent years, and now sells around 80 per cent of its bikes online. As such, it looked for a tool that would enable consumers to see its products in detail and also to help avoid returns. Their chosen solution? Augmented Reality. Potential customers can study a bike with 3D detail in the comfort of their own homes via the app. The tool makes it possible to go right down into detail – as if they had the product right in front of them. The system has proved very popular, especially during lockdown. “We’re all about high tech and design. And there will be more smart features to discover in future,” says Sofia Gerung from Vanmoof. For example, the company is said to have plans to introduce a tool for digital test rides.
“These days, it’s not hard to build good bikes. What’s hard is to differentiate yourself from the mass of good bikes out there”
Digital test rides via smartphone at home and not in store? This might sound more like something from a science fiction film. However, AR is already proving to be a very useful tool for bicycle retailers both for sales and service. One of the challenges that many retailers face is that they are independent from specific brands – especially in their workshops. Yet more and more manufacturers are introducing special features and particular techniques. This makes it difficult to acquire spare parts and repairs become more complicated. Long waits for repairs means unhappy customers – especially when it comes to expensive high-tech bikes. “These days, it’s not hard to build good bikes. What’s hard is to differentiate yourself from the mass of good bikes out there,” says Dan Caridi, Product Manager North America at Cannondale. The bike manufacturer has introduced a service-oriented AR solution for cycle retailers. Their bikes have a code that can be scanned by smartphone or tablet. This loads the bike’s data to help locate the correct replacement part. Detailed 3D repair instructions are available too. No more time-consuming searching in parts brochures or on video platforms, instead mechanics receive details and information on their smartphone in seconds. Furthermore, it’s even possible to access 3D parts demonstrations, such as the inner workings of suspension forks. This can significantly reduce the amount of time spent trying to identify a problem and so speed up repair times. In addition, the app also supports sales as models that might not be available in store or even in the warehouse, can still be modelled and presented in 3D detail. “The great thing about our AR solution is that we soon realised that it does not even require major investment,” comments Curtis Detwiler, Director R&D at Cannondale. Together with technology partner, Vuforia Studio, it took just one person and a couple of months to create the first AR experiences in the app.
“The great thing about our AR solution is that we soon realised that it does not even require major investment”