How does AR affect agriculture? (Editorial)
While most of the focus with augmented reality — technology that superimposes virtual objects onto a live view of physical environments through, say, a smartphone — has been in the video game world, its emergence into the retail sales arena was inevitable. Someday soon, shopping may be more like a trip to a theme park, with phone apps simulating how clothes fit without wearing them or how furniture would look in your home before you take it home, than a mere trip in town.
How it will impact agriculture via food sales through grocery stores, farmers’ markets or on-farm stores is anybody guess but as much emphasis on data collection has spread throughout production farming, it’s safe to say the industry won’t be closed off.
A recent paper in the Journal of Marketing outlined four broad uses of augmented reality in retail settings and examined the impact it can have on retail sales.
It listed customer entertainment, customer education, product evaluation, enhanced post-purchase consumption experience as the main ways companies may use the technology to increase sales.
Due to its interactive and immersive format, AR, as it is known, is seen as an effective way to deliver information to customers who are already acclimated to the high-tech and high-touch world, the study said. It could drive more traffic to stores and websites and thus boost purchases.
Walmart has collaborated with comic-book companies to place special thematic displays with exclusive superhero-themed AR experiences in its stores. Thus, you have to enter the store to see the display and, while there, buy something.
Walgreens and Lowe’s have developed in-store navigation apps that overlay directional signals onto a live view of the path in front of users to guide them to product locations and notify them if there are special promotions along the way.
This technology can be used to enhance and redefine the way products are experienced or consumed after they have been purchased. Buying a toy could bring to life, virtually of course, characters based on the product for additional interaction.
It may not be something individual farmers latch onto right away but it will no doubt permeate the food industry.
To address skepticism about the quality of its food ingredients, McDonald’s already has used AR to let customers discover the origins of ingredients in the food they purchased via story telling and three-dimensional animations.
Handled smartly, we see the technology aiding in the mission of sharing the story of agriculture. Imagine customers walking through the grocery store produce aisle and a phone app triggers an interactive clip of how a certain fruit is grown and picked. Imagine state fair patrons walking through exhibit halls and barns full of farm crops and animals, guided via their phone by a farmer sharing how these crops are grown.
Granted, all that information is readily available without these apps, but putting it in front of people in this way, on a screen they take with them everywhere, can move the mission forward.
It may take longer for the technology to reach individual farms but there’s clearly potential for use in agritourism and direct marketing, so long as it doesn’t replace the actual experience.
And, when something is added, something likely falls away.
The same way we don’t memorize phone numbers, or read road maps anymore, the more we lean on our phones, tablets or whatever the next device may be, the more we risk losing the actual skill and power that comes with knowing by actually seeing it or doing it, how something works, how crops are grown and how they taste — in plain-old unaugmented reality.