Augmented Reality Definition: What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality, more commonly referred to as AR, is a three-dimensional (3D) interactive experience that allows consumers to combine computer-generated projections with a view of the real world. Augmented reality uses have exploded in recent years, with consumers now able to view and interact with 3D objects from their smartphone or tablet device.
When discussing AR technology, the topic of virtual reality (VR) is often thrown into the mix. However, it’s important to note that these two technologies are separate entities. Whereas AR technology overlays virtual items onto the surrounding real-world environment, VR places the viewer into a completely artificial 3D simulated environment, requiring specific VR goggles or headsets. Therefore, AR is often today’s preference for marketing real-world products.
It is no surprise that augmented reality experiences for eCommerce (AR commerce) have skyrocketed in popularity, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With global e-commerce sales jumping to $26.7 trillion as consumers sheltered at home, brands had to ideate new methods for consumers to experience and test their products without visiting a physical store.
Take popular beauty retailer Ulta Beauty, for instance. Ulta released a virtual try-on beauty tool, GLAMlab, nearly four years ago so online shippers could digitally sample products before purchase. Since the onset of the pandemic, the company has reported that GLAMlab engagement has increased sevenfold, and more than 50 million makeup shades have been swatched post-COVID alone.
Where is AR Used?
When it comes to augmented reality use cases, the better question is, what can’t AR do? AR technology is used across countless industries, including but not limited to healthcare, education, and automotive. Augmented reality medical applications have even allowed medical professionals to create advanced 3D models of patient anatomy for patient treatment and student education.
While AR may be a newfound staple in almost every industry, augmented reality use cases are experiencing the most widespread adoption in the retail and eCommerce industries. Also referred to as AR commerce, Snap Inc. recently reported that more than 100 million consumers already use AR technology for in-store and online shopping, with 75% of the global population set to become frequent AR users by 2025.
As there’s no slowdown for augmented reality in eCommerce in sight, it’s crucial for brands to better understand the potential use cases of this technology and how it can impact product success and customer satisfaction. To navigate the avenues eCommerce business owners can take with AR technology, let’s take a look at the top five uses for selling products and services online.
Top 5 Uses of Augmented Reality in eCommerce
Once a brand like Ulta Beauty — which nets approximately $2.7 billion in sales each quarter — begins to leverage augmented reality in its website and marketing materials, it’s fair game for any retailer to experiment with the many uses of AR in eCommerce. Based on the specific product, augmented reality can offer eCommerce businesses a wide variety of uses. Here are our top five.
1. Enable Virtual Try-Ons for Footwear
Augmented reality in e-Commerce allows customers to virtually try-on a product and see what it would look like on their physical selves. For instance, online shoppers can overlay 3D product images of footwear or other accessories on their bodies when viewed through their smartphone display. This allows shoppers to gauge how the item may fit their body and style in a way that could never be accomplished with 2D images on a monitor or other screen.
Likewise, during COVID-19, augmented reality enabled consumers to test high-risk retail products, like makeup on sunglasses, directly on their faces. Aside from Ulta Beauty’s GLAMlab tool, other large eCommerce brands like Glasses.com and Warby Parker allowed consumers to virtually try on countless products from the comfort of their own homes.
In particular, Warby Parker’s virtual try-on leveraged Apple’s ARKit and True Depth (face mapping) features to render glasses in a live, 3D preview on a shopper’s face. This ability for a virtual try-on helped reduce consumer hesitation for shopping online for products that are typically tried on in-store and made the overall purchase decision both more accessible and safer.
2. Expand a Variety of Personalization Options
With the luxury of 3D commerce, consumers are not limited to a set collection of products as they would be during an in-person retail experience. Rather than only being able to try on what’s on the shelves at the moment, augmented reality eCommerce solutions allow consumers to view and try-on numerous versions of a product with just the click of a button.
The personalization options supplied by 3D & AR technology are helpful for when a consumer finds a specific product they love but may have particular style preferences that push them to want to preview a set color, shape, or size of that product before making a purchase. With AR features, consumers can mix and match products that best suit their wants or needs.
The same benefits can also be applied to eCommerce businesses that sell personalized products, in which a consumer can digitally design and preview a product before making a purchase. AR technology can help reduce customer worry that the final product will not match their expectations and minimize high return rates brought on by unreliable product previews.
3. Allow Experimentation with a Product or Service
If you’ve never dyed your hair before, you may not know that a dark hair dye may be different for a consumer with blonde hair than it would for brunette hair. So, if you purchase a hair dye online with the expectation that it will make your hair color look a certain way, you may be disappointed with the final product. This is just one of the reasons why AR in eCommerce can excel for products or services that can appear different or have different results for various consumers.
Unlike products like makeup or glasses, which color and texture look the same out of the box for each shopper, the appearance of certain products and services may be influenced by the individual characteristics of the buyer. This could explain why the major personal care company L’Oréal’s introduced the Style My Hair AR app, allowing shoppers to give themselves virtual makeovers and experiment with particular shades of hair dye before purchasing.
4. Help Consumers Understand Product Size and Fit
Augmented reality business applications are not limited to products a customer will purchase that are meant to be worn to alter their appearance. AR in eCommerce can also be used to preview a product virtually in a surrounding environment, such as a room in a home. Giant furniture retailers such as IKEA offer AR applications that allow consumers to shop numerous furniture products online and virtually preview and place the item in their home before purchasing.
AR for product placement allows consumers to gauge what a product will look like in a specific space alongside their existing surroundings, all while never having to see the product in person. Since the product is sent directly to the consumer’s home, this is a great selling point for eCommerce operators, as AR functionalities remove the inconvenience of needing to head to the store, look at the product, then lug it home — especially for more oversized items like couches.
5. Display Product Information and Customer Support Captions
In addition to virtually displaying 3d models of the product itself, AR commerce can also display product information and support captions for customers, using technology sometimes referred to as hotspots. Referencing the above discussion of using augmented reality in eCommerce furniture purchases, AR technology can display important product details, including dimensions, safety warnings, and material types, to further elevate the customer experience and encourage the individual to make the purchase. The heightened level of detail and information sharing has been shown to reduce return rates significantly. For industries that sell large, heavy items, a reduction in return rates of just a few percentage points can mean millions of dollars saved in shipping costs — not to mention the sustainability gains and positive impact on the environment.
Most furniture and home accessory brands have experienced customers who anticipated a specific sized product or material type just to receive the product and discover it’s larger, smaller, or lighter than expected. By providing these details upfront in 3D, brands can reduce the chance of lost profit due to returns and enhance the general customer experience.
Reap the Benefits of Adopting 3D & AR for eCommerce
More eCommerce websites experienced the benefits of adopting 3D & AR technology during the pandemic than ever before, and for a good reason. 3D commerce delights consumers with a vivid view of how a product will look at all angles, whether that’s a new lipstick shade or leather couch. The benefits of augmented reality include increased conversion rates, increased average order size, and reduced returns.
In other words, 3D and augmented reality shopping is the future of retail, not just a momentary trend. Fortunately, it’s never been easier for eCommerce brands to implement 3D & AR technology. With industry-leading technology, the VNTANA 3D Commerce Platform was designed to help eCommerce brands, manufacturers, and retailers build an immersive 3D & AR experience that best fits their customers.
Schedule a demo today to see for yourself why VNTANA is the single solution today’s brands need to quickly and easily deploy 3D assets at scale for any commerce need.