Will Augmented Reality Become an E-Commerce Tool?

How can AR revolutionize online shopping? Explore AR’s impact on e-commerce and customer satisfaction, from virtual try-ons to 3D product visualizations.

If you are wondering if augmented reality (AR) will become an e-commerce tool, boy have we got some news for you: augmented reality tools are already helping brands sell their products and services.

In fact, you may have already interacted with some of these tools without realizing it. From Warby Parker’s AR app for digitally trying on eyewear to IKEA Place, which can help customers visualize the functionality of furniture in their own space before making a purchase, augmented reality is already part of the e-commerce landscape.

For e-commerce, AR offers an exciting opportunity to enhance how we shop on the internet. AR can make online shopping more engaging and informative by allowing consumers to visualize products in their own space or on themselves before buying. Introducing AR into e-commerce offers an opportunity to improve the customer experience and open up innovative marketing possibilities for businesses looking to stand out in the digital marketplace.

What is Augmented Reality?

AR is a technology that enhances the real world by overlaying digital content, such as images, videos, or 3D models, onto it. This integration happens in real time, allowing users to simultaneously see and interact with physical and virtual elements. AR features can be accessed through smartphones, tablets, or specialized AR glasses, making it widely accessible for various applications, from online shopping experiences to educational content.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality are often confused. Let’s explain the difference.

Unlike AR, VR creates a completely immersive digital environment that replaces the user’s real-world surroundings with completely virtual imagery. This experience is typically delivered through VR headsets. The user tends to feel transported to an entirely different setting, be it a virtual game world, a far-off location for a virtual tour, or a simulated environment for training purposes. VR offers a unique way to experience content detached from many of the constraints of the physical world.

Key Differences Between AR and VR

Integration vs. Immersion: AR integrates digital elements into the real world, enhancing the user’s current environment without removing them from it. In contrast, VR offers a fully immersive experience that completely replaces the user’s real-world context with a digital one.

Accessibility: AR can be easily accessed on devices most users already own. AR can be integrated into mobile apps for popular smartphones and tablets, requiring no additional hardware for basic applications. VR, however, requires specific hardware, making it less accessible for the average consumer.

Applications and User Experience: AR’s applications range from immersive games like Pokémon Go to augmented online shopping experiences, where customers can use AR to see how products look in their living rooms, to AR-powered educational tools that overlay relevant information onto the real world. VR has similar use cases, such as gaming, testing simulations, and training environments, where complete immersion in a digital world creates a unique and engaging experience.

Understanding these differences helps e-commerce businesses adopt the right technology to enhance the customer experience, improve engagement, and potentially increase conversion rates.

The Marketing Potential of Augmented Reality

By allowing customers to visualize products in their own homes or on themselves before they buy, AR overcomes one of the biggest challenges of online shopping: the inability to physically interact with products as they can in brick-and-mortar stores. One example is Sephora’s virtual try-on feature, which allows customers to see what a makeup product would look like in real life by using AR technology. AR tools can enhance the online shopping experience while empowering customers to make confident purchase decisions. Similarly, Nike uses AR to help shoppers find the perfect shoe size, reducing the uncertainty that users experience when trying to determine what version of a product to select during online shoe shopping.

AR vs. Traditional Marketing Channels

The use of AR offers a distinct approach to customer engagement compared to traditional marketing channels like social media platforms, email marketing, and print advertising. Social media excels in reach and content sharing, email marketing is effective for direct communication and personalization, and print ads target local demographics. However, AR can provide a unique, immersive experience that can transform a user’s immediate surroundings and offer a new level of product interaction.

Unique Benefits of Augmented Reality in Customer Experiences

AR offers a try-before-you-buy experience that was previously only offered in-store. The novelty of AR technology can also generate buzz and excitement around a brand, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones through these unique experiences.

When considering AR as a marketing tool, brands should evaluate several factors:

Target Audience

Understanding whether your target audience is receptive to and capable of using augmented reality technology is a key consideration before investing in AR tools. This includes considering their access to AR-compatible devices and openness to new shopping experiences.

Investment and ROI

Implementing AR requires an upfront investment in technology and AR content creation. Businesses need to assess the potential return on investment, considering factors like increased engagement, higher conversion rates, and reduced product return rates.

Integration with Existing Platforms

Another important consideration is how easily AR can be integrated into a company’s current e-commerce platform and marketing strategy. Seamless integration can provide a smoother user experience and encourage early adoption.

Content Quality and Relevance

The success of AR marketing heavily relies on the quality and relevance of the digital content overlayed in the real world. High-quality, accurate product visualizations are key to a positive AR experience.

Implementing AR in E-Commerce

Augmented Reality (AR) technology can integrate into e-commerce platforms and online stores like Shopify through AR-enabled product visualizations, virtual try-ons, and interactive 3D models. AR development kits and platforms compatible with existing e-commerce systems, such as ARKit for Apple iOS and ARCore for Android, facilitate this integration. Retailers can embed AR features directly on product pages, allowing customers to access AR experiences via mobile devices, a QR code, or AR glasses without leaving the online store. This approach enhances the online shopping experience by providing customers with a more detailed and interactive view of products.

Marker-Based vs. Markerless AR

Marker-Based AR: This type of AR uses a visual marker, like a QR code or a specific image, to trigger digital content when scanned by an AR-enabled device. It’s often used in marketing materials and product packaging to provide an interactive experience. For e-commerce, marker-based AR can be used to bring product catalogs to life, allowing customers to scan a code and see the product in 3D in their environment.

Markerless AR: on the other hand, Markerless AR does not require a physical marker to anchor digital content in the real world. Instead, it uses advanced technologies like SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) to understand the environment and accurately place digital objects. This is particularly useful for furniture and home decor e-commerce, where customers can visualize how a product would look in their own space without needing a QR code or specific target image.

Impact on Key Performance Indicators

Conversion Rates: AR has been shown to significantly increase conversion rates by helping customers better understand the product they are considering. Seeing products in their own space or on themselves reduces the uncertainty of online shopping and declutters the path to purchase.

Customer Engagement: AR creates engaging and interactive experiences that captivate customers’ attention. This increased engagement can lead to longer website session times and more positive interactions with the brand.

Return Rates: AR can decrease return rates by offering a more accurate representation of products. Customers are less likely to return items when they have a clearer expectation of the product’s appearance and fit in their environment.

The choice between marker-based and markerless AR depends on the specific application and the desired user experience. While marker-based AR can be more straightforward to implement for certain marketing activities, markerless AR offers a more seamless and immersive experience for online shopping. Both types of AR have the potential to significantly enhance the e-commerce experience, driving higher engagement, better conversion rates, and lower return rates.

Challenges and Considerations

Adopting AR technology presents several technical and logistical challenges, including the need for high-quality 3D models of products, compatibility with various devices and operating systems, and a smooth and intuitive user experience. Developing and maintaining AR features can require significant resources and expertise.

Strategies for Overcoming Barriers to AR Adoption:

Educate Your Audience: Create tutorials and guides to introduce customers to AR features and demonstrate their benefits. Making the technology accessible and easy to use can encourage adoption.

Start Small and Scale: Implement AR features for a select range of products to gauge customer response and iron out any technical issues before a full-scale rollout.

Focus on Quality: Invest in high-quality AR experiences that accurately represent products. This can help build trust and ensure customer satisfaction.

Gather Feedback: Collect customer feedback on AR features to better understand their needs and preferences. This can guide further improvements and innovations in your AR offerings.

Implementing AR in e-commerce requires careful planning and consideration of opportunities and challenges. By focusing on creating high-quality, user-friendly AR experiences that meet the needs of their target audience, businesses can leverage AR to enhance the online shopping experience, increase engagement, and drive sales.

Embrace the Future With First Media

Once you have created an AR tool for your e-commerce platform, you may be looking for a way to reach an audience interested in trying out your new app. First Media is a skilled e-commerce marketing partner that can help you find the right audience and craft compelling content strategies that will lead to conversions. If you are interested in using social media to showcase your AR marketing tools, we invite you to dive into the future of content creation with the team at First Media today.