Augmenting shopping realities: studies on Augmented Reality (AR) in retail

  • Camen TEH

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that combines two worlds – the “real” world and the “virtual” world. The unique function of AR of overlaying virtual items into our real world environment blurs the line that separates what was conventionally understood as virtual spaces (e.g. e-commerce platforms) and physical spaces (e.g. brick- and-mortar stores). In the virtual space, product information is abundant, ranging from customer reviews to detailed information about products. In the physical space, on the other hand, information is limited to what we see on product packages and labels. The embedding of virtual information into physical environments is particularly meaningful, as it has the potential to mitigate consumer problems typically associated with conventional brick-and-mortar retail, such as consumer knowledge gaps about products. AR also has the potential to mitigate product uncertainty, through AR-delivered information that allow users to make sense of products and bridge product knowledge gaps.

Despite the potentials of AR in physical stores, retailers have difficulty seeing AR’s promises, particularly with the intangible nature of the benefits that AR is speculated to bring. Practitioners remain unsure about how consumers and businesses can maximise the benefits of AR and what context would AR be useful for. In addition, as it currently stands and to the best of the author’s knowledge, studies on AR experiences in the context of retail and advertising are limited, and how different AR designs can lead to positive product evaluations and increased purchase remain under-researched. The answer to the question of “What is so special about AR?” eludes us still.

In an endeavour to shed light onto the above big question, in Chapter 1, this thesis introduces the research problems of the topic in question and how this thesis is structured, as well as a commentary on the research philosophy of which this thesis is positioned, providing some reflections and background on how the choices of research questions and research designs of this thesis were made. Chapter 2 presents this thesis’s literature review, giving a broad view of the current literature on AR technology, and subsequently a narrower view on the extant literature on AR technology in the context of retail. This chapter also critically discusses the themes in current literature and their implications. The research opportunities and gaps that form the motivation of the subsequent two studies in this thesis are also discussed in Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 presents the first study of this thesis, which investigates the properties of AR and its resulting affordances using the means-end chain (MEC) approach that is grounded in the users’ perspective. The qualitative laddering technique is used for this study, which resulted in rich findings that allowed this thesis to identify the important AR attributes, and the consequences that these help users achieve in brick-and-mortar retail shopping, as well as the values that these help users gratify. From these findings, AR affordances are derived. The rich data collected from this qualitative study also provided the foundation to the thesis’s second study, which is introduced and explained in Chapter 4.

The second study of this thesis is detailed in Chapter 5, and this study focuses on two AR design components that highlight the unique attributes of AR (namely, the virtual items overlaid onto our physical environments and the ability to control these), which were elicited in the first qualitative study. This second study employs a field experiment method to investigate how these two AR design components facilitate the cognitive process of incongruity resolution for an innovative but schema-incongruent product, leading to the purchase behaviour of such products. The context of this study is a juxtaposition of a scenario where product understanding and sensemaking is pivotal, showing how AR can facilitate the sensemaking process in a scenario where individuals’ schemas are challenged.

This thesis concludes with a discussion on the implications of this thesis toward the theorising of augmented reality, together with the research and practical implications of the two studies in Chapter 6. The limitations of the thesis and corresponding future research opportunities are also discussed in this chapter.
Date of AwardMar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorDavid Phang (Supervisor) & Alain Chong (Supervisor)


  • Augmented Reality
  • Retail

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