How Augmented Reality Will Shape the Future of Ecommerce

Consumers want to remove the uncertainty from online shopping. Augmented reality (AR) could provide the method. According to a Walker Sands study released in 2015, 35 percent of consumers would shop online more often if the stores offered virtual product interaction. E-commerce in apparel, accessories, cosmetics and furniture already implemented AR, as has the construction and interior design industries. 

 What Is Augmented Reality? 

Three levels of reality exist: actual, augmented and virtual. In AR, an application and device used together let the user superimpose digital data onto actual reality. In this it differs from virtual reality which uses a completely computer generated experience that the user interacts with by wearing gloves, a headset, goggles, etc. connected to a computer to create an image displayed in the headset or goggles. 

 How AR Helps Business 

AR lets businesses augment and improve the experience they offer consumers. It provides e-commerce with a method of showing items for sale to the user beyond a flat photo on the screen or even a 3D model. Florida startup Magic Leap works with companies to integrate AR into their sales experiences. Their technology lets companies superimpose a virtual representation of inventory onto their built environment. For example, a shopper at an online furniture store could use the Magic Leap app to superimpose a lamp onto their dresser at home to see how it works with the decor. It projects the item to scale, providing a preview that’s like taking the item home. 

In architecture and construction, AR apps let companies superimpose entire 3D environments onto the landscape, so the client can envision the finished structure before a single girder goes up. The same technology lets the architect or site foreman superimpose various options on a partially built structure, so a client can decide between multiple options. For example, the client could see the difference between an arched entrance or a squared one before the door gets built. This reduces buyer’s remorse. 

As high-tech as it sounds, the entry cost remains low. It’s low enough that small- to mid-sized businesses can use the technology to improve sales. Success in implementation depends on two key items: 

  • Use AR to give the consumer a more useful experience. 
  • Let users customize their experience. 

 Business Use Cases 

To date, the runaway success of the Pokémon GO game tops the list of successful business use cases of AR. That game superimposes characters or game items onto the natural environment allowing the user and game to unite. Furniture giant IKEA uses it to let consumers preview pieces in home. Converse lets users “try on” pairs of shoes using a smartphone app. 

The Sephora app uses ModiFace, a technology that creates an AR representation from a user’s “selfie” pic. The shopper can try on any cosmetic and combine them to experiment with makeover ideas. They can immediately purchase the products they like. A similar app from eyewear e-retailer Warby Parker lets shoppers set up and avatar to try on any pair of glasses from their home or office. 

AR helps with larger items, too. For instance, the app Tap Painter lets you try paint colors on your walls. It offers the catalogs of specific brands, including Behr, Benjamin Moore, and Sherwin Williams. Choose from the palette or enter the manufacturer’s swatch color code. 

The app Amikasa lets users decorate their home with furniture choices from a variety of brands. The app generates a model of their home using the consumer’s room measurements. Once a user places a furniture piece, they can change its color to any the manufacturer provides. They can switch it to another room or simply another area of the same room. The consumer can buy the furniture in app. 

 Moving Ahead 

A few firms have developed interfaces or development kits. Amazon patented its “Augmented Reality Presentation” that offers three main features: a fitting room, a full room scan for use with home decorator consultations and immediate sales notifications. Apple developed the open source ARKit, a development platform for iPhone and iPad apps. MageWorx produces Magento plug-ins to enhance e-commerce so stores can offer custom prices and users can change item colors with a click. 

AR already offers a low cost entry threshold. As major manufacturers like Apple create development kits to aid e-commerce entry, costs will continue to fall. If users respond as they say they will to an augmented shopping experience, the return on investment will provide impressive.

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