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Would You Wear Augmented Reality Glasses That Help You Shop?

Google Glass as a consumer product may have been too far ahead of its time, but the market for augmented reality eyewear could be about to heat up with a commerce-led PayPal product leading the charge.

Prior to Apple’s forthcoming AR glasses launch, PayPal renewed an augmented reality patent it received years ago that could help to create smart shopping glasses—eyewear that would leverage AR technology to display relevant product information like pricing, return policy and payment options when the wearer is looking at an item on the store shelf, according to a CNBC article. The PayPal system could also facilitate purchase, with the customer’s stored payment information and a database of vendor product data.

AR is commonly seen as a more applicable technology than its virtual reality (VR) cousin. AR, by design, supplements reality, laying virtual text and imagery over what your own eyes already see. That’s why a slew of companies, including Amazon, have been incorporating AR, which can give consumers added confidence when making high-value purchases online. Plus, with developer kits from both Android and Apple, adding AR into existing mobile apps is fairly straightforward—and it means consumers don’t need to port around an extra device to experience AR, enabling the tech to leapfrog VR in widespread adoption.

For now, VR has found its use cases in entertainment, gaming and otherwise “immersive” experiences. VR typically relies on headsets through which the virtual environment is experienced, and while that works for some applications, most run-of-the-mill consumers aren’t going to carry around yet another gadget that has limited daily usefulness.

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There’s no detail yet on security around this type of proposed payment-enabled AR eyewear. What happens if the glasses fall into the wrong hands? Could hackers access personal data?

What’s more, it remains to be seen whether there’s sufficient consumer demand for shopping glasses. Would they be designed solely for commerce, retail and product visualization or would there be other uses as well? So far, the consumer market has been fairly resistant to devices that aren’t indispensable to our everyday lives. Google Glass eyewear flopped on the consumer market mostly because the product didn’t serve a must-have purpose—but they’ve found a home with 2.0 hardware redesigned for industrial applications such as manufacturing and healthcare (especially in the operating room).

Still, maybe AR glasses would catch on if they solved shoppers’ pain points. For example, if wearers could easily order products that ran out in store, retailers would benefit from increased sales and fewer disappointed customers, while shoppers wouldn’t have to find an associate to help them order an out-of-stock item.