AR in eCommerce. It's a Trend, But Will it Ever Really be Useful?
With 2021 ushering in a new era of fun and functional tech advancements, the world feels like the future has finally arrived. We once only dreamed about technologies like Quantum computing, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous cars, and CRISPR. These days, most of it is available at our fingertips.
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the top game-changing technologies in the eCommerce sector. It gives customers the power to visualize products while shopping, making it easier to make successful purchases. Over 100 million people shop with AR, and 71% of consumers say they would shop more often if only they could use AR.
Is AR All That?
Or will it get momentary hype and then fizzle out? MySpace, Flash-driven websites, Netscape, or Betamax (for those born before 1980) all had a moment in the digital sun but are now considered tech dinosaurs. Not to mention Google Glass, which was called "The Next Big Thing" back in 2016 but had to be terminated because of high costs and privacy concerns.
AR advocates believe it to be the future of retail. Some skeptics think there are too many limitations and challenges to overcome to achieve long-term success. Others only see it as a "toy" because of applications like Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters. This article explores how eCommerce vendors can practically apply AR and whether it's a passing trend or here to stay.
Immersion is the Buzz
AR in eCommerce uses 3D mapping to help customers preview experiences or try on products before purchasing. From trying on glasses frames or clothing to placing furniture in your home to see if you like it there, AR makes the digital shopping experience so much more immersive.
Where brick and mortar stores have the opportunity to pay close attention to everything from lighting and marketing material to store music and layout, eCommerce stores have limitations. AR challenges these limitations in a fun way and creates engagement.
Engaging customers during shopping is highly competitive, and AR could be a new way to compete. It brings about an entirely new customer experience that may lead to improved customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and of course, conversions. Immersive experiences engage, and engagement sells.
AR is Not a New Thing
Did you know that AR has been around for over five decades? Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, known as the "father of computer graphics," developed the first AR. Sutherland created a head-mounted AR display unit, giving rise to other universities, companies, and agencies developing systems that superimpose virtual information over the physical environment—for example, overlaying geological information over terrains. It was used in the military and aviation industries.
Then came AR's first commercial application. A virtual agency developed a printed magazine ad with a model BMW that interacted with a computer's camera with VR tech. It was done by connecting the virtual model with physical markers on the ad, so users could control the car on the screen by moving the paper around. That's cute, but is it useful?
Maybe AR is Just for Entertainment
AR can be highly entertaining. Remember when you saw dog ears on friends and family worldwide? After introducing the dog filter in 2016, Snapchat became the first to introduce AR into social media platforms. The dog filter trend had so many people hooked for months. But this doesn't mean that AR is limited to the entertainment industry. It's becoming more and more geared to commerce.
After the aviation and the military used it, AR's value became evident, and brands like National Geographic, Disney, and Coca-Cola jumped on board. National Geographic's AR showed extinct animals walking through a shopping center. Coca-Cola created environmental awareness by simulating melting ice, also in a mall. Disney created cartoon characters that interact with people in Times Square. In all these examples, the brands used AR technology to engage customers. And now it's trending!
The boom in eCommerce of 2020 further brought it into the commerce mainstream. Pinterest launched an AR-powered try-on experience for eyeshadow in January 2021, and Facebook announced a $10B investment in AR and VR in October 2021.
With so much (and more!) going into AR technology development and the uptick of the social shopping trend, AR is growing fast.
It Also Solves Problems
With AR commerce, "try before you buy" becomes so much more meaningful. AR helps brands reach customers who don't want to leave their homes to go to the store or don't have stores nearby. Brands don't even need physical stores to reap the benefits of AR commerce. And that's not all, here are some of the excellent benefits of AR:
More Informed Purchasing Decisions
UPS found that the reason why 27% of consumers return goods is that the purchase was "not as described." Customers can preview products before they make the purchase, so they better understand what they're spending money on. By giving shoppers an immersive experience, they have more information to decide with. More informed decisions lead to fewer returns.
Increased Buyer Confidence
Customers want to feel sure that the product will fit their needs. For example, if they're shopping for dining room chairs, the chairs must match the table and the room's layout, color scheme, and decor. With AR, the look and feel of a product are more apparent than traditional photos.
Customers feel more confident about making a purchase, which reduces the time it takes to make a final decision. It also increases overall customer satisfaction and helps build customer loyalty. A confident buyer is more likely to purchase; therefore, buyer confidence accelerates sales!
Higher Conversion Rates
Snapchat compiled a report that revealed that when consumers interact with products that offer AR experiences, the conversation rate can shoot up to as much as 94% higher. Using 3D technologies with online shopping increases conversion rates explicitly by 40%.
With all of these apparent benefits, it sounds like AR is the next best thing. But, as with most emerging technologies, it also has a downside.
Potential Cons to AR
No technology is a perfect fit for every product and every industry. Here are some limitations to AR worth noting:
Not all Products Benefit From AR
AR is most helpful for items where physical traits like size, color, and aesthetics are the primary drivers behind the purchasing decision. Personal items like clothing and makeup, furniture, and home décor are top candidates for AR commerce.
It Could Be Expensive
AR tech projects can be expensive to develop and maintain. Producing AR-based devices is also costly. Shopify offers AR solutions worth checking out!
A Lack of Privacy
Like with Google Glass, the user's privacy may be at risk. AR technologies can see what the user is doing and collect a lot of information about who they are and what they are doing. There is also inconsistency in AR programming, leading to oversights in privacy.
The biggest issue is that there's no regulation in the industry, so there are no clear guidelines about what's allowed and what is not allowed in the AR environment. For example, slightly manipulating and overlaying AR Content can be used to hijack accounts through mining data output and surveillance. If your data is compromised, and you try something on in an AR app, someone could overlay somebody else's body over yours and use it for nefarious purposes.
AR is developing technology, and many applications still have bugs. It also requires basic learning, so the experience may not be impressive from the outset. Negative experiences with AR features can damage future expectations for it. Whenever someone encounters a challenge with AR, it adds to the perception that it's too much work to be worthwhile.
There is a Possibility of Physical Harm
Since AR operates in the real world, with digital elements that drive attention away from reality added, there is a risk of physical harm. There was a spate of reported injuries from people playing Pokémon Go.
Despite the massive potential in the automotive industry for using AR in live maps, manufacturers are hesitant to develop it. The distraction is too significant and could be more of a liability than an advantage for people driving.
It's Not Always Impressive
Users have to calibrate the outward-facing camera of the device for it to work with some AR apps. Sometimes this calibration is not successful and displays flat, non-interactive images. It could also interfere with the item's scale. Both issues defeat the purpose of AR. Not all AR apps are made equally, and there are still many bugs in some of them.
Is AR a Passing Gimmick or the Future of Shopping?
AR has technically been around since the 1960s, but it's really only just the beginning of it. The market is snowballing and has staggering projected market values. Statista expects the AR market to be worth over $18 billion by 2023 - a massive jump from the $1.8 billion in 2018.
It can potentially impact most industries, from medical and automotive, to entertainment, and of course, retail. Industry leaders like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing in it. As big tech continues to develop AR, we can expect to see it become more integrated into life. Consumers are excited, and digital store owners can already see the conversions rolling in.
It Has to be Fun and "Real" But Also Useful
AR's most significant driver is fun and novelty. But, just like Snapchat's dog filter, fun things have a shelf life. For AR to become a sustainable part of eCommerce, it has to be so valuable that people miss it when they don't have it at their fingertips. It has to become a ubiquitous part of life.
AR can be better than real life since it allows shoppers to preview items quicker and more efficiently than in a physical store. With well-developed AR, the makeup lover can try various makeup looks without washing their face every time. The home shopper can get the perfect coffee table by seeing how it would look in their space before buying it.
We can't wait to see AR reach its full potential! But until then, we'll stick to the AR apps that are highly rated, and for the rest of it, we'll rely on imagination and measurements.