Chapter 5:
Virtual Reality (VR) vs. Augmented Reality (AR) in eCommerce

VR and AR are two key technologies in the 3D eCommerce mix. How are these two technologies related? How do they differ? And are there times when one is more effective than the other? Let’s explore these question

How Are VR and AR Similar?

VR and AR both immerse users in digital environments which add a dimension to the experience provided by non-3D digital technologies. VR engages the user with a fully digital environment which may reflect physical reality to a greater or lesser degree depending on the application. AR adds digital layers to physical reality. Both technologies may use supporting technologies such as binaural beats and haptic clothing to enhance the immersive experience. Both technologies are considered 3D in the sense that they deliver a different and more immersive experience than technologies that present two-dimensional images of reality.

How Do VR and AR Differ?

VR and AR differ in their relationship with physical reality. VR provides a digital environment that may resemble physical reality but is experienced relatively independently of it, similar to the experience of a daydream. AR takes images of physical reality and adds digital layers to them. Essentially, VR offers an alternative to physical reality, while AR enhances physical reality.

These differing relationships with physical reality entail different technological interfaces. VR is designed primarily for headsets, while AR is designed for smartphones. However, both types of technology may be used in conjunction with other interfaces such as PCs.

When Should You Use VR vs. AR?

Generally speaking, VR and AR each have specialized uses they each excel at, although they also can do some of the same things. VR is ideally suited for applications that involve displaying something a customer could not view easily or at all from their physical location. For example, VR can be used to create a virtual showroom allowing customers to browse your brick and mortar store without leaving their home.

AR, on the other hand, is ideally suited for applications that involve showing the customer how your products or services could interact with them in their existing physical environment. For example, AR can be used by a shopper to see how a handbag compares in size to an existing handbag they already own. 

Another example serves to illustrate this essential difference between the two technologies. If an architectural design firm wanted to show a client a preview of a building design, they might use a VR model of the building. However, if a furniture store wanted to show the same client how a chair would look in the new building after it’s completed, they might use AR.

While VR and AR have different best uses, they’re not mutually exclusive, and they can sometimes serve similar functions. Both types of technology can be used to advertise products and create promotional content. Both also can be used to support the sales process. It is even possible to combine a VR environment with AR digital overlays. These technologies should be thought of as supporting each other rather than competing. They are two tools in your 3D toolkit.