Augmented Reality (AR) is reshaping the face of eCommerce. Online customers now routinely do virtual try-ons of clothing, preview furniture items in their homes, or click on product support captions to see shopping information. These are just a few applications that make augmented reality in eCommerce a game-changer for retailers today. Using AR can give your brand a competitive edge and drive more sales.
This article will cover some of the most important examples of augmented reality in eCommerce. First, to provide some background, we’ll clarify what AR is and how it differs from virtual reality. Then we’ll look at how AR has grown in importance in visual commerce, what benefits it brings brands, and how it can help you market in the Metaverse. Next, we’ll examine the different types of augmented eCommerce applications and where AR is used. Finally, we’ll review five of today’s most crucial eCommerce augmented reality applications.
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, allowing mobile devices to be transformed into digital showrooms.
How Does Augmented Reality Differ from Virtual Reality (VR)?
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 real-world marketing products.
The Rise of Augmented Reality in eCommerce
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.
Eight Benefits of Augmented Reality in eCommerce
The growth of 3D eCommerce augmented reality reflects the valuable visual merchandising benefits that AR brings brands. These include:
- Increasing customer engagement
- Improving buyer confidence
- Increasing conversion rate
- Reducing product return rates
- Improving user experience
- Increasing brand awareness
- Attracting new customers
- Gaining a competitive edge
Let’s break these down:
1. Increasing Customer Engagement
AR increases customer engagement by providing a more immersive digital environment. It feels more real when customers can zoom in on 3D models, see products from different angles, try on products virtually, or see products in their homes or backyards. This capability gets customers more involved with your products and more engaged with your brand.
2. Improving Buyer Confidence
An immersive experience makes shoppers more confident in what they’re buying. For example, when a customer can see how a clothing item will look on them before ordering it, they feel more secure that they’ll be happy with their appearance. When customers can view products from different angles and see captions explaining product features, they have a better idea of what they’re getting.
3. Increasing Conversion Rate
Increased eCommerce buyer confidence yields higher digital conversion rates. Confident shoppers feel more secure that they’re making a solid purchase. Plus, AR makes it easier for them to visualize owning and using the product, making them more likely to buy.
4. Reducing Product Return Rates
Buyer confidence promotes lower return rates. When customers are confident in the product they’re buying, they’re less likely to have second thoughts later. This confidence saves you money by covering the cost of returns processing, shipping, and handling.
5. Improving User Experience
Augmented reality enhances the quality of user experience. AR shoppers feel more engaged and better informed. AR also lends shopping a personal quality which improves the shopper experience. When shoppers can see themselves in virtual try-ons or view products in their homes, it makes the buying experience more personal.
6. Increasing Brand Awareness
Because augmented reality is more engaging, it can help build brand awareness. AR ads that invite shoppers to virtual try-ons encourage clicks and shares. These social interactions can help build your brand’s presence on social media.
7. Attracting New Customers
By increasing brand awareness and keeping shoppers engaged, augmented reality helps you attract new customers. The higher conversion rates generated by AR translate into more customers and revenue for your brand.
8. Gaining a Competitive Edge
As augmented reality becomes increasingly popular as an eCommerce tool, AR can help you gain and maintain a competitive edge. Brands that feature AR shopping enjoy all the advantages covered here. On the other hand, brands that don’t incorporate augmented reality will suffer a distinct disadvantage compared to more forward-thinking competitors leveraging AR’s benefits.
How Your eCommerce Business Can Leverage 3D and AR in the Metaverse
Augmented reality and 3D technology also can benefit brand marketing in the Metaverse: the extension of the Internet into a broader realm that includes AR and VR. Augmented reality marketing methods geared toward native applications of these technologies can multiply brands’ income by attracting distinct market niches.
For example, one emerging 3D eCommerce and AR strategy for the Metaverse is using Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). NFTs are unique identifiers that employ blockchain encryption to establish authenticity and ownership of digital properties, including digital replicas of physical products. Brands that sell high-end luxury items, such as Gucci, have been using NFTs to offer unique or limited-edition products which command high prices.
Different Types of Augmented Reality Applications
When it comes to putting AR into practice for eCommerce merchandising, there are several methods for going about it. Four of the most common types of AR marketing applications are:
- Marker-based AR: applies AR overlays to images of real objects
- Markerless AR: uses AR to engage digital objects
- Location-based AR: provides AR overlays based on the user’s physical location
- Projection-based AR: uses physical projectors to display AR overlays over physical objects
Let’s look at how these work:
This method applies AR to images of real objects by using a marker, which is a distinct pattern a camera can recognize, such as a Quick Response code (QR code). When the user’s camera detects a marker, the user is redirected to an AR web app or mobile app where users can view the AR overlay over a 3D image of the object. The user can now see AR captions or view objects from different angles and perspectives in 3D.
Markerless AR applies an AR overlay to a digital object rather than an image of a real object. For example, a 3D model of a product can be used to allow shoppers to see items from different angles, zoom in and out, and view call-out captions.
Location-based AR triggers an AR overlay when a mobile device detects a user’s position at a specific geographical location. For example, a shopper in a brick-and-mortar store might see an AR interface about an item while standing in an aisle where that item resides on shelves.
This method projects a 3D image onto an actual three-dimensional object to generate a realistic AR overlay. For example, a customer shopping for furniture might view how different colors and styles are projected over the same generic model.
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, social media platforms, and automotive. Augmented reality has even been used in real-life medical applications allowing 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, AR 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 retail 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, brands must 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 look at the top five online uses for selling products and services.
Top Five 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. Augmented reality can offer eCommerce businesses various uses based on the specific product. Here are our top five example uses of AR in business.
1. AR Virtual Try-Ons: Allow Customers to Experience Your Product
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 smartphone displays. This capability allows shoppers to gauge how the item may fit their body and style in a way that brands could never accomplish with 2D images on a monitor or other screen.
Likewise, during COVID-19, augmented reality enabled consumers to test high-risk retail products directly on their faces, like makeup or sunglasses. 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 their 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 of a shopper’s face. This ability for a virtual try-on helped reduce consumer hesitation for shopping online for products typically tried on in-store and made the overall purchase decision more accessible and safer.
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.
2. 3D Product Configuration and Personalization: Give Your Customers 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 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. 3D Product Preview Placements: Let Customers View Your Product in Their Own Environment
Augmented reality business applications are not limited to products a customer will purchase that are meant to be worn to alter their appearance. Shoppers can also use AR in eCommerce 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.
4. 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. Hotspots can display essential product details, including dimensions, safety warnings, and material types, to further elevate the customer experience and encourage the individual to purchase. The heightened level of detail and information sharing has significantly reduced return rates. 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 environmental impact.
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.
5. 3D Marketing Campaigns and Social Media Filters
Users can deploy augmented reality marketing through social media filters which let users experience AR overlays on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. Social media filters allow brands to let followers experience effects such as face filters, makeup filters, clothing try-on filters, and placement of real-world objects such as furniture and outdoor gear.
For example, say you’re selling shoes. Social media users can go to your profile page and select shoes from your catalog. They can then use a filter to see how they’d look wearing their selected shoes.
This type of application can be particularly valuable because of the engaging nature of social media. Followers will engage with your brand by trying items out themselves and be inclined to share results with their friends and followers.
Reap the Benefits of Adopting 3D and AR for eCommerce
For a good reason, more eCommerce websites experienced the benefits of adopting 3D & AR technology during the pandemic than ever before. 3D commerce delights consumers with a vivid view of how a product will look from all angles, whether a new lipstick shade or a 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 and 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 why VNTANA is the single solution today’s brands need to quickly and easily deploy 3D assets at scale for any commerce need. Let VNTANA be your guiding augmented reality technology source.