Integrating what's virtual with what's real. That's basically what Augmented Reality (AR) is all about. Unlike video recorders (which makes a real-life experience a digital one) and unlike Virtual Reality (which puts you in a completely virtual world). AR is about bringing something virtual to the real world. And no, it's not just about gaming, it re-shaping the online shopping experience.
What is Augmented Reality?
Simply put, augmented reality is adding virtual images or objects to the digital version of your surrounding real-world environment. Just like the photo below. In reality, the room doesn't have a chair. But IKEA's AR app IKEA Place has added the chair in a real-life size to the picture so that the customer can experience its look and feel within a room before buying it (or even visiting the store).
Is it just a passing trend?
All the current indicators say the opposite. AR is not a passing trend, it's here to stay. This technology is now extensively applied across multiple industries from education, military to retail and eCommerce. With major companies like Facebook, Google, Alibaba and many other giants pouring BILLIONS of dollars into AR research and development every year. And even with more mobile phones and devices coming with AR-powered features.
On the other hand, from an eCommerce and retail point of view, AR is expected to be an integral part of the mainstream shopping experience soon. And not only online shopping, but for the in-store experience too.
Why you should consider integrating AR in your online store?
For starters, and according to Oberlo Blog, 40% of customers would be willing to spend more on a product if it offered an augmented reality experience. The possibilities and benefits that this technology is offering to eCommerce (for both customers and retailers) are limitless. Let's explore a few of them!
1- Breaking the "look and feel" barrier
As the number of tech-savvy customers is growing, they are now comfortable with online shopping than before. But on the other hand, you'll find even more online transactions are put on hold (or even not considered in the first place) because customers still need to experience the look and feel of the product before buying it.
This is one of the situations where augmented reality shines the brightest! It enables the shopper to see the product in action. All the way from trying makeup on virtually, checking if a specific shade of paint will fit the room or even how a dress will look on them. All of this before they even seriously consider making a purchase.
2- Trying more options without the hassle (or worst, the returns)
Instead of wondering if this product or that would be more suitable, augmented reality made it easy for online shoppers to try on multiple products virtually to find the right fit. On one hand, it's about increasing the customers' satisfaction. But on the other hand, it can play a huge role in decreasing the overhead cost for online stores. It might look like a small deal but returns can easily eat the profitability of the transaction.
In the Forbes Article Many unhappy returns: eCommerce's Achilles Heel Steve Dennis, founder, and president of SageBerry Consulting puts it this way:
"Unfortunately today, e-commerce generates a lower operating profit for us than four-wall, brick-and-mortar. We think over time that will reverse itself but...when the consumer requires free delivery, free return, wonderful packaging, plus there's a new trend that people are buying multiple sizes of things to try them at home and then return them, that all is a negative headwind for us."
3- Autonomous in-store experience
It turns out, AR is not just for the online shopping experience. It can also be a very powerful tool in enhancing your customers' in-store experience too. Combining AR with powerful image recognition and artificial intelligence technologies can provide shoppers with a highly personalized in-store experience, from showing product details, reviews, prices to giving shoppers special recommendations based on their preferences and previous behavior.
4- the 360 view
What if you don't sell wearables, makeup or furniture?! what if your online store sells bikes? or gadgets?
Aside from placing objects virtually in a room or applying makeup virtually to a shopper's face. AR also provides an easy way for customers to view a product in 3D form and rotate it 360 degrees in all direction. Just like when someone enters a gadget store and starts holding and turning different products to see them in detail.
A good example of this is PureCycle's AR experience on their Shopify store. Check it out in this video
5- A competitive edge
When competing in the infinite online marketplace, adding AR-powered technology to your business can give your business a competitive edge. With the customers knowing that they can test and try multiple products virtually before buying them, it can increase the odds of them choosing your store over the other competing brands for their next shopping spree.
Are the customers ready for it?
Are people comfortable with using this technology in the first place? is the market ready for making such a technology mainstream?
Well, we can safely say yes. There are multiple AR apps that didn't only succeed but went viral (Pokemon Go, anyone?!), thus proving that people aren't alienated with the technology itself. On the other hand, when it comes to eCommerce, multiple major brands have integrated AR into their mobile applications. Here are a few examples.
In their AR-enhanced app, IKEA enables its customers to try their furniture virtually in their spaces before actually buying it. Customers can try as many pieces as they want till they find their perfect fit. All from the comfort of their home.
You can try on the all-famous Sephora's makeup before buying any of it or even leaving your comfy armchair! Sephora's AR-enhanced Virtual Artist app enables online shoppers to try different makeup products virtually using their phone's front camera.
How can you apply it to your online store?
Well, the previous examples of IKEA and Sephora were truly impressive, but is it necessary to be a multi-million dollar company to start integrating AR in your online store? fortunately, you don't.
If your online store is on Shopify, you can work with your company's web development team to develop your AR experience for your shoppers using the 3D Warehouse Shopify app. It helps you create 3D models for your products and display them on the website's product pages instead of regular pictures only. If you don't have an in-house development team for your Shopify store, you can outsource the project it to a Shopify development agency to do it for you.