There’s no more putting it off. The time is ripe for online retailers to start implementing augmented reality (AR) technology, now while it’s still cutting edge. Over the next few years, AR in ecommerce will become the new norm, but if you start now, you can still get a head start over your competition.
Almost two years since the launch of Pokemon Go, AR is rapidly becoming mainstream. As we mentioned months ago when explaining the biggest ecommerce trends of 2018, plenty of household-name retailers are already using it. For example, both Amazon and IKEA have apps that let you preview how furniture will look in whatever room you’re in.
But this summer, Facebook launched their first AR ads, with Michael Kors sunglasses as the pioneer, signaling a mass-adoption on the horizon. So what’s the big deal? How can ecommerce sites fully take advantage of this tech? And how can you, personally, get AR for your online store? We’ll answer each of these three questions below.
Why Augmented Reality in Ecommerce is More-or-Less Essential
The Harvard Business Review stated that augmented reality spending will reach $60 billion by 2020. That’s a good reason to start taking it seriously (because your competitors are), but we can offer a better explanation than just that.
For starters, AR tech is mostly for mobile devices, and mobile ecommerce is growing in leaps and bounds. According to eMarketer, mobile ecommerce sales grew 24.8% between 2016 and 2017, making up 58.9% of all ecommerce sales for that year. The numbers for mobile ecommerce are projected to keep growing as well, which means the more conversion-oriented tools like AR you have, the better.
Moreover, the customers themselves are saying they want it. The ThinkMobiles blog reports that:
- 63% of customers say AR would improve their shopping experience
- 35% say AR would make them shop online more often
- 22% say they’d patronize brick-and-mortar stores less if AR were available on more ecommerce sites
- In a controlled experiment, AR ads interested more viewers than 2D ads (74% against 45%), and that the viewers of the AR ad were even willing to pay more for the product.
Considering that augmented reality minimizes the physical limitations of ecommerce — online shopping’s biggest drawback — it makes sense that customers and retailers alike are eager to see its adoption.
On a psychological level, customers have an increased sense of ownership with AR technology, sometimes even more than brick-and-mortar stores because they can see the product in their own home before they buy. Image how it’d improve conversion rates if a customer decides where they would put your product before even deciding whether or not to buy it.
On top of these statistics, there’s also the sense of wonder this new tech provides. Early adopters can stand out from their competition and improve brand awareness, building a reputation as a more modern company. Although that sense of wonder won’t last long (the curse of the digital era), there’s still time to capitalize on the freshness of augmented reality before it truly becomes commonplace.
How Ecommerce Applies Augmented Reality
Depending on the products you offer, you can apply augmented reality in different ways:
As with the Amazon and IKEA apps, shoppers can preview how a certain product looks within their own home (or office or garage, etc.). Like we said above, this feature gives an increased sense of ownership and goes above-and-beyond what brick-and-mortar stores can offer.
Not only that, but it also saves the customer time after a purchase. Rather than moving a heavy object around the room to preview it in different locations, customers only need to move their phone screen. That’s a great boost to both customer satisfaction and their loyalty.
Virtual Fitting Room
With the popularity of selfies, your customers don’t have any objections to turning their device’s camera on themselves. This allows them to virtually “try on” clothing and accessories for a better sense of how it will look on them instead of on a random online model (although it doesn’t rectify the fit problem). As Michael Kors AR ad demonstrates, the clothing can “move” along with the person, allowing the customer to preview how it looks from different angles.
A more ambitious application, you could create a virtual in-store experience for the sake of customer enjoyment. For example, one of the first AR marketing campaigns ever was Airwalk’s Invisible Pop Up Store. They gave their target market of skaters and surfers exclusive deals by offering an AR “store” in popular skating and surfing spots. With AR, any location can become a virtual store, opening up new worlds and possibilities for creative marketers.
How to Use Augmented Reality
Part of the problem is that technology this new and modern seems a bit intimidating. And it is, if you were doing it yourself. We could explain to you all about Open Computer Vision libraries for modeling and Open Graphics Libraries where the API interacts with the GPU… but we don’t want your eyes to roll back in your head.
Instead, implementing AR is as easy as hiring a developer that specializes in — or at least has experience in — augmented reality. The tech is old enough now that a sizable pool of professionals are already familiar with it. The right hire, even a temporary freelancer, will tell you how plausible your vision is and what it’ll take to get it done. You don’t have to learn the tech yourself to implement it, just find someone who already knows it.
Takeaway: Today’s Trend is Tomorrow’s Necessity
Based on everything we’ve just talked about, you can see how perfectly augmented reality fits into ecommerce. It’s just a matter of time before everyone else — including your competition — realizes it too. The point is, as an ecommerce retailer you’re going to have to implement AR sooner or later, so it’s better to do it sooner when you can still reap the early-adopter benefits.