It is no surprise that advances in technology have affected the retail industry, from how we search and shop for items to how we eventually pull the trigger (or tap the button) on that final purchase.
One of the more recent technologies that has impacted the online retail experience for shoppers is augmented reality (AR). Businesses of all sizes can benefit from incorporating AR into their digital retail presence and take advantage of the ways in which this innovative technology can support their customers’ online shopping experience.
Different than virtual reality, where the user’s experience is entirely immersed in digital surroundings, Augmented reality provides users with an interactive experience whereby they interact with a device that superimposes digital elements onto their real-world environment.
AR is a lot more common than many of us may realize. If you’ve ever played Pokemon Go, then you’ve been introduced to AR. This smartphone game allows the user to view the world through a smartphone camera while overlaying other digital information, including Pokemon creatures, graphics, audio, icons, and game scores. The popular social media app, Snapchat, is another common example of a platform that utilizes AR through their interactive World Lenses and Face Filters.
While it may sound like the basis of the latest Black Mirror episode, augmented reality has, in fact, been around for quite some time. The first rudimentary form of AR was developed in 1968, but the technology wasn’t put into action until the U.S. Air Force adapted it in 1992. Initially used for flight navigation and soldier training drills, AR quickly launched into the public sector, with the first commercial video game hitting the stage in 2000. And for smartphones, the first AR game was launched in 2005 – a tennis game developed for Nokia smartphones.
Outside of military training and personal gaming, AR has been used by businesses for their customers’ retail experiences since BMW first introduced it in 2008. Today, more and more ecommerce websites are recognizing the value of enhancing their customers’ online shopping experiences with this engaging technology.
Wayfair, one of the world’s largest online home furniture retailers, uses augmented reality to enable their customers to imagine new furniture pieces exactly as they will appear in their homes.
Called “View in 3D,” Wayfair’s iPhone and iPad app lets customers browse furniture and then choose the piece they’d like superimposed in their space – wherever they point their camera. Customers can rotate the furniture and view its dimensions by manipulating it on their screen, allowing them to get a better sense of what that piece may look like in their space before buying it.
In April 2018, clothing retailer Zara launched the Zara AR app, which allows users to interact with products in the stores themselves, further enhancing the in-store shopping experience. Users can also use the app “via in-store podiums, on boxes they receive delivering online purchases and via dedicated images at zara.com,” providing users an opportunity to “shop the look.”
After pointing your camera at either the front window display or in-store podium of a dedicated Zara AR store, users can watch digital models come to life and showcase the latest trends. All of the looks shown in AR can then be shopped through the app or purchased in-store.
According to Zara, “the app features a tool for sharing the experience on social media, encouraging users to take and submit photos of the holograms, establishing a virtual connection that appears remarkably real.”
In addition to the introduction of augmented reality on ecommerce sites, there are other ways to incorporate the experience into your everyday life. While perhaps a little pricier than a free app, AR glasses and headsets are slowly entering the market.
Microsoft first launched their take on an AR headset in 2015. Their second iteration of this technology, which blends sensors, optics, and holograms with the real world, was recently announced and will be available for purchase soon, with a price tag of approximately $3500 USD. Designed for use by those who work in fields like engineering, industrial design, and medicine rather than everyday users, these headsets are a combination of AR and VR.
Additionally, Apple recently announced that they plan to launch their own AR headset in 2022, which will include both AR and VR options – meaning that users have the choice of interacting with their physical environment or not. According to some sources, “some Apple senior managers believe that future versions of AR Apple glasses could replace the need for iPhones in about 10 years.”
With some speculating that “the AR software market is expected to reach $35.22 billion by 2022,” it makes sense to think about ways to incorporate this exciting technology into your online retail platform.
While purchasing an AR headset may not be in the cards for most people, the fact that we can make use of this technology through our smartphones means that AR is still quite accessible, even for small businesses.
Seattle-based home improvement start-up, Porch, launched in 2013. They work to connect homeowners with handymen and contractors, ensuring homeowners can get renovation projects from painting to appliance repair done quickly and easily by a reliable professional. They recently teamed up with AR provider, Streem, to incorporate the technology into their website. With AR, contractors and other home improvement professionals can “take measurements and capture video information of the problem to offer a quote for the repair before taking on the job.”
US-based Iman Cosmetics makes cosmetics for women of colour. They have been working to incorporate AR into their app experience to allow customers to find the perfect skin-tone match for foundation and other cosmetic products – referred to as their “colour signature.” This app uses “patented color-matching technology to analyze the color of the user’s eyes, hair, skin and lips. After an analysis, the app offers customized product and look recommendations to match the user’s complexion and style.”
In Canada, the first Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality Hub was launched in Vancouver in 2017. Known as The Cube, this 6,000-square-foot hub “supports early stage entrepreneurs and corporate innovators, enabling connections with partners, customer applications and investment opportunities, ultimately leading to faster growth.” Supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs, The Cube gives its members access to mentorship programs, training and business-building workshops, the newest tech gear, and industry-related events. This allows businesses to experiment with AR technology in the 50-desk open office, complete with “private offices, virtual tech gear and a custom-built green room.”
Canadian commerce platform, Shopify, has also incorporated AR into their shopping experience. For an additional cost, businesses using the platform can upload 3D models of their products, created by submitting photographs and dimensions of each product. Customers are then able to view those products in their home through the camera of their smartphone, adding another layer of interactivity to the online shopping experience.
With AR becoming more and more common in the ecommerce market, now is the time to incorporate this technology into your own platform and provide your customers with the enhanced online shopping experience that will not only encourage increased sales but provide additional engagement and interaction between your products and your potential customers.