How do augmented reality (AR) applications impact consumer responses in commercial contexts?

The rise of augmented reality (AR) applications requires marketers to understand how this technology impacts consumer responses in commercial contexts.   One way to achieve that is to study AR features and examine how they affect consumer behavior.

Computer science and human-computer interaction literature (Billinghurst & Kato, 2002; Preece et al., 2015) offers relevant insights into how AR differs from other technologies. Its ability to augment physical surrounding with virtual annotations has been named augmentation and it sets it apart from other interactive technologies. However, no study so far has been conducted about effects of augmentation on consumer responses.

This study set for its objective to understand if augmentation creates an immersive experience for consumers. Previous studies have shown that media characteristics such as interactivity (van Noort et al., 2012) lead to more immersion in terms of flow (Cszikszentmihayli, 1997) which then further on significantly increases consumer affective responses such as brand attitude, cognitive responses such as thoughts towards the brand and behavioral intentions.  Similar effects have been shown for other characteristics such as virtuality, hypertextuality or modality. Because of AR novelty, studies haven’t yet examined to which extent the augmentation could potentially cause such effects and absorption.

The theoretical framework for this study relied on TIME – Theory of Interactive Media Effects proposed by Sundar et al. (2015). TIME explains the objective media features are perceived by users via psychological correlates and that this perception further influences the immersive experience and impacts consumer’s affective, cognitive and behavioral responses.

In the empirical part I replicated the research design by van Noort et al. (2012). I conducted two experimental studies where I tested, firstly, if users perceive AR apps to be more interactive or to offer higher augmentation than non-AR apps and, secondly, what type of consumer responses that elicits.

In two experimental studies, two groups of users (N=60) used an AR and non-AR app, with a task to find the best fitting chair for a working desk (Study 1) and the best fitting pair of sunglasses (Study 2), in each study for the same brands.

In both studies, the perceived interactivity was not reported to be higher for the AR apps, showing that an addition of AR features to an app or a website does not make the website or app to be perceived more interactive.

On the other hand, the users reported higher perceived augmentation for the AR apps, in the sense that they perceived it to enrich the surrounding and to add information to the physical environment. Perceived augmentation was estimated by five measurement items developed based on the literature on AR.

Furthermore, in both studies the perceived augmentation showed significant impact on website/app attitude and behavioral intentions to use the app again and to tell other people about it. In both cases these effects were mediated by flow, i.e. complete absorption in the experience.

These findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge by showing that AR distinguishes itself from other interactive technologies by its feature augmentation, the perception of which has a significant impact on both affective and behavioral consumer responses and that these effects are mediated by flow.  The results invite for studies that would develop the scale further, test these results with other types of AR apps and in other commercial contexts.

This study has also been discussed in my recent piece in Harvard Business Review in the context of AR deployment in marketing.

Read the original research article: Javornik, A. (2016). ‘It’s an illusion, but it looks real!’ Consumer affective, cognitive and behavioural responses to augmented reality applications. Journal of Marketing Management.

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Ana Javornik

Ana Javornik

Ana Javornik is currently a Research Associate at University College London Interaction Centre and a Research Associate at Holition. Ana is also a PhD candidate at Università della Svizzera italiana. She conducts studies on augmented reality and consumer behavior, often by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together marketing and human-computer interaction (HCI) perspectives.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.