Have you tried to catch a Pokémon lately? Or experimented with silly Snapchat filters? Or attempted to fit the perfect dresser in your bedroom via the IKEA app? If these activities sound familiar, then you’ve tried Augmented Reality (AR) — the most accessible and fast-evolving immersive technology available to consumers.
Immersive technologies weren’t created yesterday. They’ve been around longer than social media or iPhones. Yet, they weren’t ready for the mass consumer market — until recently.
According to Statista, the market for AR technology is growing, with projections for 2023 valuing it at over $18 billion U.S. dollars. It also predicts that consumer spending on standalone and embedded augmented reality mobile applications worldwide will reach$15.497 million by 2022.
Now that AR is on the rise, it’s quickly finding application in most, if not all, product-driven industries. This includes the world of ecommerce. However, many ecommerce store owners are still wary of adopting AR technology — and that’s mainly because many of them still don’t know what AR exactly is and how it can change their online selling game.
For most people, AR is still a quite abstract and mysterious technology, often perceived as the science fiction out of Hollywood movies. Animated holograms, interactive displays, and virtual 3D models. In reality, all these things do already exist!
In this article, we’ll discuss in detail what augmented reality is and how ecommerce businesses can leverage it to expand their business, increase sales, and boost customer experience.
Let’s get rolling.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality is the technology that expands our physical world by adding layers of digital information on top of it. Viewed via a screen, it offers a view of the physical real-life environment with superimposed computer-generated images, therefore changing the perception of what you see in front of you.
The superimposed sensory information can be constructive (i.e., improving/adding to the natural environment), or destructive (i.e., covering the natural environment), but the intent is to seamlessly combine the digital and physical worlds.
How is Augmented Reality Different from Virtual Reality?
Augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) are the two primary types of immersive technologies. However, the terms are often confused with one another and used interchangeably.
Let’s dispel with the myth that they offer the same experience.
The basic concept of virtual reality is that it takes the user and places him or her in a new, digital world. To achieve this, users wear a VR headset or a head-mounted display made up of one or two computer screens to fully immerse themselves in the experience.
Sensors within the headset transmit signals to your brain, changing your perception of what you see and adding to the experience of existing in that world. In turn, you feel as if you’re moving around and interacting with the virtual items inside the simulated environment.
On the other hand, devices using AR layer digital items onto elements from the real world. The AR technology allows you to add or change your perception of the world in real-time while easily differentiating virtual items from existing ones.
And of course, with AR, there’s no headset needed. You can use your tablet or smartphone to view these computer-generated creations. AR developers have also made AR-enabled glasses and other light headgear.
AR vs VR: The Differences
Here are four major differences between AR and VR.
1. The virtual experiences environment.
VR provides users with a completely digital environment with no objects from reality. AR enhances what you see by adding computer-generated images to the view using different devices.
2. The equipment.
VR necessitates wearing a VR headset to create a truly immersive experience. Some applications need extra equipment as well, like a handheld controller to get the full benefit of the experience. AR, in contrast, only needs you to have a “smart device” (e.g. phone or tablet) to enjoy the experience.
3. The user’s environment.
VR requires an uncluttered space to move around safely since the user is largely “removed” from the real-world experience. Objects and people around the user can become a hazard—and the user can become a bit of a danger to others as well! With AR, you remain fully aware of your surroundings.
4. The energy required.
VR gear consumes more power and energy than AR because it is generating a full digital world rather than combining digital and real.
Types of AR Applications
Let’s take a deeper look at the common types of AR applications:
1. Marker-based AR.
Marker-based AR, also called Image Recognition or Recognition based AR, detects the object in front of the camera and provides information about the object on the screen.
The recognition of the object is based on the marker where it replaces the marker on the screen with a 3D version of the corresponding object. Consequently, the user can view the object in more detail and from many angles.
While rotating the marker, the user can also rotate the 3D imagery as well. This acts as a reference for the AR app running on the system.
Check out several marker-based augmented reality examples from the Overly app.
2. Markerless AR.
Markerless AR is one of the most extensively used applications in the immersive technologies category. One of its types, location-based AR is easily available in the smartphones that allow location detection.
This kind of app works by reading data from the GPS, digital compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer to provide data based on user’s location. This data then determines what AR content you find or get in a certain area.
Snapchat’s World Lenses is a good example of markerless AR. With World Lenses, users can generate live filters simply by pointing their smartphone at any object or scene.
The most prominent example of a location-based AR app, however, is Pokémon Go, which perceives players’ GPS coordinates and displays Pokémon depending on where someone is located.
3. Superimposition-based AR.
This type of AR app substitutes the original view with an augmented — full or partial — view. Object recognition plays a critical role here since, without it, the whole concept is simply impossible.
A great retail example of superimposed augmented reality can be seen inIKEA Catalog app. It allows users to place virtual items of their furniture catalog in their own rooms in real-time.
4. Projection-based AR.
Projection-based AR is one of the simplest kinds of AR. It is appealing and interactive at the same time. It involves projecting synthetic light to physical surfaces, and in some cases, allows the user to interact with it.
Common examples include the holograms we’ve all seen in sci-fi movies like Star Wars. It detects user interaction with a projection by its variations.
Users provide guidance through their manual inputs and the projector responds by changing the light emitted. Projector-based AR works for both practical and entertainment purposes, as this video shows.
Augmented Reality in Ecommerce
How’s AR changing the ecommerce landscape? Check out these stats:
How Ecommerce Businesses Are Using Augmented Reality
AR allows ecommerce customers to preview products or experience services in their own environment and on their own time, before electing to make a purchase. Using AR, your customers can preview products and be more likely to pick the right product the first time.
Here are the top four ways that ecommerce stores are currently using AR.
1. Social media filters.
We mentioned Snapchat up top. If you’ve been on there or Instagram Stories lately, you’ve probably used an AR filter. These filters were once used ‘just for fun’, but over the years there has been a rise in the number of brands who are jumping on the AR bandwagon.
Why are brands using social media AR filters? There are three key benefits:
- Increased awareness of a brand or product: It is a great way to showcase a new product by telling people to ‘test’ how it’ll look on them.
- Increased engagement: AR filters are a good way to boost audience engagement. For example, you can encourage people to tag you in their stories when they use the filter to enter a competition.
- “Wow” factor: There are so many brands on social media right now. Adding an AR filter can help showcase just what makes you special.
Remember back in 2017 when Ben & Jerry’s created a highly interactive Facebook AR filter game to launch a new ice cream flavor? The game encouraged people to ‘catch’ marshmallows in their mouth. This type of filter takes more work to bring to market but it is endlessly entertaining and shareable.
We MakeUp, the Italian cosmetics brand, created an AR filter on Facebook that allowed users to ‘try-on’ different shades of its lipstick. Users could find their perfect match and make the purchase right away.
The creative involved a video that demonstrated the filter’s use, encouraging users to try it for themselves. The campaign was a huge success with53% higher CTR and a 28-point lift in sales when compared to video-only ads.
2. Preview placement.
Buying the wrong item is quite common in ecommerce because the customer can’t physically handle the product. For example, the shopper might buy a sofa set and later realize that it just doesn’t look good with the rest of the décor. That’s where preview placement can help.
It gives customers a real-time glimpse of what the product will look like when placed in their environment.
For example, Sony Electronics recently launched the Envision TV AR app as a way to “try before you buy”. This means that homeowners could preview how a Sony TV will fit on the wall or in the space that they had in mind for placement. With the app, users could accurately determine which TV size was perfect for their space by using a smartphone and the Envision TV AR app.
Etsy, an online marketplace famous for giving creators a platform to sell their art. With so many options it can be tough to select a print or painting, let alone visualize how it will look in a space. That’s why Etsy is helping consumers preview wall art in their own spaces with a new AR feature on its iOS app. So, you no longer have to rely on imagination alone when wondering if a certain print would look good above your couch.
Here’s another example of preview placement.
Burrow, a DTC furniture brand, uses AR to help customers visualize how their couches will fit in their living rooms. Their Burrow at Home app uses ARKit to place true-to-scale 3D models of Burrow’s couches in photos taken on customers’ iPhones and iPads.
3. Virtual try-on solutions.
According to a report from customer experience platform Narvar, the top reason why consumers returned goods from Amazon (34%) and other retailers (46%), was the wrong size, fit, or color.
Not every brand can offer a home try-on facility likeRevelry that allows dress samples and swatches shipped right to your door. But virtual try-on is an alternative that’s trying to close the gap.
AR helps online shoppers understand what they’re buying and how precisely items from clothing to cosmetics will work for them. Virtual try-on allows them to see how the item will look before adding it to the shopping cart.
Today, there’s a slew of brands who have embraced AR technology to offer virtual try-on functionality to the customers. For example, online jewelry retailer Kollectin’s app launched an AR feature called “Xperience” to let customers virtually try on jewelry.
Similarly, eyeglass maker Warby Parker is also playing in the AR space, allowing people to see what a pair of glasses looks like on their faces before making a purchase.
4. Interactive user manuals.
Today, user guides are becoming a lot smarter and interactive. With digital transformation on their shoulders, ecommerce brands are creating interactive user guides that run on top of their website or software. They help users better understand how their product works.
An interactive user manual responds to user actions, providing on-page contextual support when using a software, website, or application. It brands to automate customer support and onboarding and provide more autonomy to the consumer when using a new platform for the first time.
Many AR user manual apps scan the product and indicate the buttons in the real-life environment using graphical arrows and animations with text. While others like Ask Mercedes use Augmented Reality to let you explore the functions of numerous operating elements in a playful way.
Simply enter your questions into the chat text or voice and receive the corresponding response. Complicated issues are easily and systematically explained with images or descriptive videos.
How Augmented Reality Can Help Grow Your Store
One of the greatest limitations of the ecommerce industry is the inherent difficulty of trying to represent a product virtually.
AR can help bridge the gap between shopping at a physical location and online shopping by making it easier to represent merchandise and giving the consumer a better sense of what they are purchasing.
When you implement AR in your ecommerce store, you can expect to:
1. Increase customer engagement.
AR technology increases customer engagement by 66%. That’s because it keeps the user hooked to your site. And, the longer a customer spends on your website, the more likely they are to buy something.
Even if they don’t buy during a visit, the improved engagement means they’ve developed a relationship with your brand and your product, which makes them more likely to make a future purchase.
2. Attract new shoppers.
You can reach new customers and create a buzz around the brand by creating engaging AR campaigns. And guess what? As many as 40% of customers are willing to pay more for a product if they can experience it through AR.
This is because AR gives ecommerce customers greater confidence about the product and its quality before clicking “buy,” which makes them more confident paying a premium.
3. Boost conversion rates.
Average mobile conversion without AR is about 3.5%. With AR, it increases to 11%. In addition to keeping people on your site longer, AR can actually boost sales. This is likely because AR gives users more information than static 2D images.
Along with offering 3D views, it can show what a product looks like in a consumer’s space, making it much easier to make a purchasing decision.
How to Bring Augmented Reality to Your Ecommerce Website
Want to bring AR to your online store? Here are a few things you need to consider:
1. Clarify your business objectives.
Is AR right for you? What are you wanting to achieve? Does this help your customers? These are a few questions that you need to ask yourself before you embrace AR for your business.
Figure out your vision and goals first before jumping into the technical aspects of AR. Once you know where you’re going, the process of choosing the techniques and technologies you need to get there becomes easier.
2. Identify augmented reality tools you would like to use.
To assess the AR tools, think about the following:
In a limited budget, you may want to opt for an AR platform that offers a free license. Many AR solutions provide both free and commercial licenses. However, keep in mind that the free version won’t be as robust as the full version of the software.
Whether you’re planning to run your app on mobile devices, laptops, or AR glasses, ensure that the tool you use can support the hardware for your app.
Supported operating systems
If you’re planning to develop apps for several operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.), make sure that the platform you choose supports every OS you want to run your app on.
Although the AR tools in the market have similar capabilities, not all of them are created equal. So carefully evaluate each platform to ensure it has the exact features you need.
For example, not all platforms support geo-location, so if you’re planning to create a location-based AR app, stay away from such tools.
3. Market your new tool.
The next step is to think about marketing and promoting your AR initiative. After all, you want to ensure that people are aware of your app, and that they know how to use it.
Here’s how you can market your new tool:
- Create a demo video: Make promotional and instructive videos for your app that demonstrate how it’s used. This will decrease confusion and queries about your AR initiative.
- Display in-app instructions: Provide clear, step-by-step instructions that tell people exactly what they need to do when using your app. Also, add examples or even photos and in-app videos that get your instructions across.
- Make your AR content shareable: Allow users to share their AR store experience with their friends or their extensive network on social media. This can be photos with augmented objects in them or tweets with a branded hashtag.
In the age of social distancing, AR is a powerful tool for merchants. It makes it possible for consumers to engage with products almost as they would in physical stores, and that higher engagement translates to higher sales.
However, the pathway to AR victory can be perplexing if you don’t know what you’re doing. When in doubt, always seek help from a professional like Threekit.
Threekit is a pioneer in leveraging AR technology for ecommerce brands. We can help your customers see how a product looks in their space with remarkable detail and accuracy.