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Guide | September 13, 2021

Augmented Reality Technology in eCommerce, an Explainer

A video game has to be pretty incredible to have people risking life and limb just to play it.


Twenty-two people have died playing Pokemon Go according to a website tracking the deaths, with deadly traffic accidents, shootings, and stabbings all befalling gamers too immersed in Pokemon Go to avoid serious injury. 


Why was Pokemon Go such a huge hit in the heady days of 2016? Sure, the popularity of the Pokemon franchise played a part, but a huge part of Pokemon Go’s success was thanks to what as at the time a relatively unknown technology: augmented reality.


The creators of Pokemon Go used augmented reality (AR) technology alongside location tracking and mapping tech to allow players to catch, train and battle Pokemon characters in real-life locations. Since Pokemon Go, AR has only grown in popularity (Snapchat, anyone?) and now, it’s hit the eCommerce industry and the possibilities are endless. A Google survey found that 66% of people are interested in using AR for help when shopping, showing it’s not just execs excited at using a new toy driving the AR revolution.


The biggest drawback of shopping online is the inability to see whatever is your buying in front of you, and AR goes some way towards solving that problem. But what exactly does it mean to use AR in eCommerce, and what are the benefits? Read on to find out.


What is AR in eCommerce


There are a couple of different ways augmented reality technology can be used in eCommerce, and choosing which kind of AR tech you use will depend on your goals.


Superimposition-Based Augmented Reality


This type of AR covers up the original view of an object either entirely or just partially. This is the type of AR Snapchat uses to superimpose cartoon characters into the world. The most important part of this AR is the ability to recognize the original object to be replaced


Furniture stores use superimposition-based AR to show what a new couch looks like in a prospective buyer’s house. All they need to do is point their phone camera at where they want to put the sofa, and a digital version appears.

 

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AR lets you see how a new couch would look in your home. It won't tell you if the cat will approve, however.

 

Marker-Based Augmented Reality


Ever used a QR code? Those barcode lookalikes that were generally considered useless pre-pandemic? If you answered yes, you’ve used marker-based AR. The QR code is the ‘marker’ that is used to trigger the augmented reality experience. In 2011 an artist used this type of AR to create the world’s first animated tattoo, though of course, you don’t have to do something so dramatic with your eCommerce store.


This type of AR can be great for customer interaction, for example, you could include a QR code on the packaging of an item that customers can scan to play a unique thank you message for them.


Markerless Augmented Reality


Unsurprisingly, this type of AR doesn’t need a marker like a QR code, instead, you just have to use a good old-fashioned link click. Then, the AR tech superimposes the experience onto your surroundings, which is typically best as a flat surface. Glasses companies can use markerless AR to show how a new pair of spectacles look on your face.


Some Examples of AR in eCommerce


Virtual fitting rooms have been around since the mid-2000s in both virtual and augmented reality form, but fashion retailers aren’t the only ones making use of AR tech to sell online. Here are but a few brands making great use of the metaverse to drive sales and engagement.


M.A.C Cosmetics


Make-up Art Cosmetics (M.A.C) and Fenty Beauty are just a couple of cosmetics companies using AR tech to show prospective customers how their products will look on them.


M.A.C uses the Perfect Corp platform, which leverages a combination of machine learning and AR to show how the make-up will look on the skin. The company found customer engagement rose by 200% a month after launching its virtual shade finder for foundation, according to Internet Retailing. M.A.C uses the tech for its versatility as it can adapt to different skin tones and face shapes, and is even used by professional make-up artists as well as regular customers.


IKEA


No app will ever be able to replicate the delicious taste of IKEA’s meatballs, but the Swedish furniture retailer does have an app that they say allows customers to “reimagine home furnishings”.


IKEA Place lets users place thousands of 3D versions of IKEA furniture in their own homes with just the use of a smartphone, a revolutionary move for the furniture industry as previously, try before you buy was virtually impossible with something as large as a bed or sofa. The app also allows customers to take photos of any furniture they see and search for similar IKEA products, giving it uses beyond the AR functionality.


Lego

 

Who didn’t love Lego as a child? The possibilities for creativity with the little plastic bricks are endless, and the Danish brand has used AR tech to enhance the world of creativity Lego can help kids unleash. 


Using the Hidden Side AR app, children can play an interactive ghost-hunting game using different lego pieces. This is a very innovative use of AR as it taps into every child’s boundless imagination and only encourages them to get more deeply immersed in the Lego experience. Needless to say, this is great for engagement.

 

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Lego is using AR to inspire and encourage creativity.

 

The Benefits of Augmented Reality


So now we know what AR is and how other brands are using it, but just how could it benefit your business? While it should be noted that implementing AR teach can be expensive, there are plenty of advantages to taking the plunge.


Reduced Return Rates


This one is obvious but let’s still spell it out. If customers are able to test out your products using AR, like in the examples above with eyeshadow and sofas, they’ll be much less likely to return them. That’s because AR tackles head-on eCommerce’s longstanding problem of being unable to foyer a “try before you buy” experience efficiently.


The proof is in the pudding with this benefit, as demonstrated by home improvement merchant build.com. The firm found that when customers bought products using the AR function, return rates were 22% lower than with shoppers who didn’t use it and bought the same product.  


Improved Customer Engagement


We all like playing with new toys, and augmented reality is a new toy for most of us. It stands to reason then that having an AR function on your eCommerce store is going to keep people on it longer, as they want to play with that new toy! Even if this doesn’t lead to a purchase it will create a positive association with your brand for the customer as a forward-thinking and interactive company, something not to be sniffed at.


Retailers using AR saw a 19% spike in customer engagement last year amid Covid-19 lockdowns, according to data from Vertebrae. While part of that jump is definitely attributable to people being unable to leave their homes at the time, using AR is still only going to send your store’s engagement upwards.


Increased Conversion Rates


We’ve saved the best for last here, as, at the end of the day, the best benefit you’ll get from AR is an increased conversion rate. If done well, the technology allows customers to make more informed purchases, and the more informed they are, the more likely they are to pull the trigger on a purchase. 


Shopify has reported a two-times increase in conversions with the use of 3D and AR tech in its stores. That translates to 200%, a staggering number, and while the same results can’t be guaranteed across the board, the potential is clear to see.


Brave New World


If you’re ready to step into the brave new world of the metaverse, several of SmartOSC’s platform partners offer extensions and apps to help you add an AR offering to your store, so check them out here.


To speak to an expert about all your eCommerce needs, get in touch with us here.


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