Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Which Is Best for Your eCommerce Business?

Today there’s a lot of buzz about augmented reality vs. virtual reality. But what does it mean for eCommerce retailers? In this article, we’ll look at how AR and VR differ and how to decide which one is right for your eCommerce applications. First, we’ll take a look a look at what AR and VR do individually. Then we’ll contrast their benefits for eCommerce. This will help you understand when to go with an augmented reality system versus a virtual reality system when showcasing your eCommerce products.

AR vs. VR: Comparing Virtual and Augmented Reality

AR and VR technology often get discussed as a single concept. Yet, while both AR and VR use digital environments to transcend physical reality, they do so in significantly different ways. In simplest terms, AR adds a digital layer that interacts with physical reality, while VR creates a purely digital counterpart to physical reality. Another clear distinction is accessibility: while augmented reality can be experienced using any camera-enabled mobile device, virtual reality requires specific hardware, such as a VR headset. In the following sections, we’ll define AR and VR separately to understand what is unique about each technology.

What is Augmented Reality? AR Meaning Defined

Augmented reality (AR) is so named because it enhances the user’s experience of the physical world through computer-generated stimuli that appeal to visual, haptic, and auditory senses. AR blends digital components with the user’s real-world environment to create an immersive, interactive experience. AR experiences can be initiated from smartphones, tablets, or even PCs. It doesn’t require any special equipment such as visors or headsets. However, this equipment can be integrated with AR technology for advanced applications.


In an eCommerce context, AR can enable fashion shoppers to digitally try-on clothing and apparel or to view 3D digital models of products in their real environment. The value of 3D & AR technology becomes evident when one considers that many of the obstacles to conversion in eCommerce are due to a shopper’s uncertainty about the product’s quality, size, or fit. By implementing AR into your eCommerce strategy, you can give customers the ability to see how that pair of shoes would look on their feet or to gauge whether that camping tent will be big enough for the whole family.

What is Virtual Reality? VR Meaning Defined

Virtual reality creates an entirely digital environment that replaces the user’s physical environment; In this simulated reality, users can see and engage in 3D, similar to how they experience physical environments. The virtual environment enables users to replicate physical experiences such as turning their heads to look at objects, rotating objects to view them from different angles, or walking to a different position to view the environment from a new location.

VR achieves a 3D effect by using two or more images to create views of an object from multiple angles. Usually, this is achieved by using a headset, although multiple screens also can be used.

VR images may be combined with sounds and tactile sensations for a more immersive experience that engages multiple sensory modalities. For example, haptic gloves can coordinate the user’s hand gestures with the actions of an avatar in a virtual space.

The virtual world created by VR experiences sometimes is referred to as the metaverse. Within the metaverse, digital objects can be bought and sold. Encoding objects with unique identifying codes can establish ownership. Objects so encoded are known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

In eCommerce, VR may let customers view and engage with digital representations of products. For example, a customer can use a VR headset to browse a virtual store and examine virtual products.

What is the Difference Between AR and VR?

AR and VR are similar to the extent that they both use digital technology to provide an environment beyond the world of everyday physical experience. And both technologies can be useful for eCommerce. However, they differ significantly in several important respects beyond these common traits. In general, AR alters your view of the physical world, while VR immerses you in an imaginary world. More specifically, AR and VR differ in the type of experience they provide, the environments they create, their relationship to the physical world, the kind of equipment they require, their accessibility, and their best uses for eCommerce:

  • AR and VR offer different experiences. AR builds on your normal visual experience of your smartphone by adding a layer to what you see on your screen. VR immerses you in an artificial visual environment viewed through a headset.
  • AR and VR have different relationships to the physical world. AR builds on the physical world by changing its appearance and adding extra layers. VR creates an alternative to the physical world, which may be a close simulation of it (as in a virtual simulation of a store) or a significant departure from it (as in fantasy gaming environments).
  • AR and VR require different equipment. AR only requires a smartphone, tablet, or PC, while VR usually requires a special headset.
  • Because AR only requires a smartphone while VR requires a headset, AR is more accessible than VR.

These differences make AR and VR suitable for different types of eCommerce applications. AR excels at applications that allow customers to interact with physical products by viewing them on their person or placed in their physical space. A primary example is AR try-ons, where a shopper can use a selfie photo or video to see what they’d look like wearing some pants, shoes, or another clothing item.

VR is more suited for eCommerce experiences where the customer needs to see an immersive view of a product or store. For example, VR is useful for replicating a physical retail store or creating a digital alternative because it allows remote buyers to walk through a home. This is most commonly referred to as a digital showroom. We’ll discuss more on that in a separate piece. However, AR would be more suitable for showing customers how furniture for sale might look in a home.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Choose the Right Technology for Your Business

We’ve covered all of the main differences between AR and VR, but one question remains: which of these technologies is right for your business?  For B2C eCommerce in particular, AR is a more valuable sales tool because of the technology’s accessibility. Only about 17.7% of people in the U.S. own a VR headset, compared to the 85% that own a smartphone.

VNTANA’s 3D Commerce platform is geared toward AR applications. And our 3D web viewer includes built-in AR out of the box. It is designed to make it easy for brands, manufacturers, and retailers to adopt AR quickly and deploy AR experiences to their customers at scale. You can get started by uploading your existing 3D models or allowing our partner network to create them for you. Our fully automated, patented 3D optimization algorithm does the rest, optimizing your images without any human effort involved to instantly have the file types and size you need for the web, social media, and virtual worlds.

Bolstered by a team of technical experts and the highest level of 3D and AR expertise in the industry, VNTANA is the single solution today’s brands need to quickly and easily deploy 3D assets at scale for any commerce need. Contact our sales team to discuss how VNTANA can help you deliver great AR experiences to your customers.

Baby Crib Phone AR