It’s cool. It’s fun. And it drives sales. Augmented Reality (AR) is poised to be the next new thing for ecommerce stores, making this a perfect time to jump on the wave before it breaks.
But for a majority of online retailers, augmented reality seems out of their league. Something only the big brands can afford. And while AR isn’t free, it can be more affordable than you think, and in some cases pays for itself by increasing sales.
In this all-encompassing guide, we explain everything you need to know about augmented reality for ecommerce to get started. We’ll cover why it’s so important, 5 expert tips, and our recommendations for AR agencies to help with the technical obstacles.
Why Augmented Reality for Ecommerce is More-or-Less Essential
The Harvard Business Review predicts that augmented reality spending will reach $60 billion in 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 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. Imagine how it would 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 Online Retailers Apply Augmented Reality
Depending on the products you offer, you can apply augmented reality in different ways:
At Home Placement
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 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 model. 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.
Augmented Reality for Ecommerce: 5 Best Practices
Your next steps will depend on your business strategy and whether you’re engaged in multichannel selling. Here are 3 augmented reality uses for online retailers.
1. Multiple Products at Once
With customers able to virtually test out lots of different products in a short amount of time on themselves or in a given space, the chances that they’ll buy multiple products are a lot higher.
Make it easy for them to try multiple products at once. In brick-and-mortar stores, customers tend to gather all the clothes they want before they go into the changing booth, rather than one at a time. If you sell home decor, give them the ability to design the room with your product line. While you’re at it, why not give them a little extra incentive by offering special discounts for doing so?
2. Always Ask for Feedback
Just because you built it, doesn’t mean it’s effective. After a customer makes a purchase (or even uses the technology), be sure to send out follow up emails asking how their shopping experience went and whether they would suggest any improvements. Throw in a question about product presentation and how easy or tough it was for them to decide which product to buy.
Maybe incorporate the feedback option within the technology. Doing this will give you valuable feedback on points you need to improve while showing your customers you appreciate their business.
3. Take Advantage of Sales Platform Resources
Online shopping carts such as Shopify have made it possible for small retailers to incorporate AR into their product listings, with 3D modeling of products. Teaming up with Apple and it’s AR Quicklook, Shopify has made it easy for over 600,000 sellers to integrate AR into their stores.
AR compatible point of sale (POS) apps are included into the monthly fees starting at $79 per month. Other third-party apps like Amikasa allow sellers to upload their wares in 3D.
4. Develop Your Own App
Not every ecommerce platform allows AR on their apps — and some don’t even have apps. You may want to consider building your own app to incorporate AR.
If you’re like most sellers, you won’t be doing the coding yourself. Development costs vary, but ThinkMobiles gives us a rough idea of how much you can expect to pay in developer fees. Having your own app improves the customer’s buying experience and the convenience of online shopping, so it’s useful regardless.
5. Get Ahead of the Competition
Big companies like Amazon and Ikea have already started using AR to boost online sales, but two-thirds of companies still don’t use it in their business.
Since the majority of online sales are made by small and medium-sized businesses, the sooner you start integrating AR into your business, the more competitive you’ll become. Also, keeping a close watch on evolving customer tastes when it comes to the shopping experience itself will give you a huge edge in the competitive online marketplace.
Augmented Reality Software and Services for Online Retailers
Part of the problem with AR is that technology this new is 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.
So, for most of us who don’t want to learn programming, there are two options left: outsourcing AR or beginner-based software. After all, the tech is old enough now that a sizable pool of professionals are already familiar with it, and there’s a market for user-friendly software that removes the coding elements from AR design. Below is a combination of both so you can compare and pick the best for you.
Want to design your own augmented reality experiences without learning code? ZapWorks is a user-friendly design suite that allows any skill level to create their own AR. Plans come with ZapWorks Studio, a more robust and fully equipped design platform, and ZapWorks Designer, a more basic drag-and-drop interface for beginners and designers in a hurry.
ZapWorks allows all the features you’d want in an AR designer:
- world tracking for adding virtual stores or other graphics to real-life locations
- face tracking for “trying on” facial or head accessories
- alpha video for attaching a video on a plane or object
- 3D support for next-level product pictures
It’s also one of the more affordable options: $60 per month when paid annually. Expect a small learning curve and set aside time for the actual designing.
If you’re more in the “do it for me” group, Augment offers a pre-built AR Viewer you can add to your app. Supporting ARKit & ARCore, Augment doesn’t allow the customization options of ZapWorks, but for some people that’s a good thing. Instead, it specializes in previewing how products will look in real-life space, with features like multiple products and offline synchronization. .
If you’re looking for creative solutions like virtual pop-up stores or trying on clothes, Augment won’t be much help. However, if all you need is a product previewer so shoppers can see what your items will look like in their homes, Augment is perfect. The plan for small businesses costs $89 per month (billed monthly) and covers use of the AR Viewer in your app, although you’ll have to pay an additional fee to white-label it.
Last, if you’re looking for more upscale AR solutions, Marxent allows 3D product images to be deployed via an SDK in either your own app or a white-label app. Marxent touts the speed of its AR — “10x faster than ARKit or ARCore alone,” according to its website — which can be a great advantage for reducing annoying rendering times.
In addition to augmented reality, Marxent also allows 360º product views and virtual reality, not to mention access to their Marxent® 3D cloud for 3D asset management (those files can get large). Unfortunately, prices are available through request only.
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.
Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published in September 2018 and was updated in April 2020 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.