eCommerce is superior to traditional brick-and-mortar retail in ways that benefit both the retailer and the customer. That’s why eCommerce has rapidly taken over as consumers’ preferred way to shop. But it can’t be denied that brick-and-mortar retail has the advantage where viewing and interacting with products is concerned. One of the most important applications of Augmented Reality in eCommerce will be to bridge the gap and bring digital products into the physical world.
Augmented Reality is the introduction of digital objects — animations, images, interfaces — into a user’s environment. The user looks at the screen of a device, which uses the camera and sensors to create a digital representation of the environment and project objects into it. Through the screen, the objects appear solid and can be rotated (or walked around) just like other objects in the environment.
Augmented Reality is not a new technology, but until recently was too expensive and unreliable for widespread consumer adoption.
Companies like Apple and Google have worked to improve the state of the art in AR, and Apple’s introduction of ARKit and improved sensors and cameras in the newest models of iPhone will encourage more developers and businesses to create apps that leverage AR capabilities.
Retail Perceptions recently carried out a survey that indicated that 40% of shoppers would pay more for a product if they could experience it through AR and 71% would shop at a store that offered augmented reality. Such surveys should be taken with a pinch a salt, but AR is likely to make a significant impact on eCommerce.
Think about the typical shopper browsing the products of a fashion retail store. She wants to buy a new dress but is unsure if the products on offer will look flattering. She scrolls through image after image but remains dubious. She doesn’t make the purchase.
Imagine an alternative scenario in which the shopper was able to view the dress on a three-dimensional model — perhaps even a model based on her measurements — that she could walk around and instruct to move catwalk-style through her space. She might try the dress with different accessories in different colors. This is a more compelling and immersive experience than pictures and videos can offer.
It’s early in the adoption curve of AR in eCommerce, but many retailers are testing the waters. Ikea is the most prominent. Its iPhone app Ikea Place can be used to place 3D models of Ikea furniture in the shopper’s rooms. The iPhone knows the dimensions of the room and the furniture and shows the room as it would look with the furniture in it.
Applications like this make eCommerce better than brick-and-mortar retail —– who hasn’t bought furniture only to find that it suited the store more than their home?
Augmented Reality also has a part to play in advertising and brand engagement. SnapChat is leading the way here with Sponsored 3D World Lenses, which allow brands to insert augmented reality objects into users’ snaps.
Over the next year, we can expect to see more retailers testing the AR waters and developing innovative ways to bring together the digital realm of eCommerce and the real-world environments of shoppers.