How Augmented reality (AR) is used to improve e-commerce? That's a pretty common question nowadays. Since Covid struck us, there is a massive hype around AR as a sales solution. But the truth is that this technology has been with us for quite some time. And still, for many e-commerce brands, it remains unclear how to take advantage of it.
That's why we want to review five examples of things that AR can do for your e-commerce. And give you some clues about what you can do, and what you should not do with it.
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Augmented reality is not a recent technology, it is not a consequence of the pandemic - as some mistakenly believe - nor is it something "thought up by Mark Zuckerberg, for his Metaverse" nothing could be further from the truth. In truth, AR has been there for the better part of almost 60 years.
????The first AR technology was developed in 1968 at Harvard when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland (named the “father of computer graphics”) created an AR head-mounted display system. ????
And it makes all the sense in the world because the natural evolution of the digital environment is to mingle with the real environment.
That has always been the dream of programmers. And countless generations of coders have relentlessly pushed towards this utopia where the real and the virtual coexist in an environment without visible barriers between the binary and the “ordinary”.
Sadly, AR capabilities until at least 2010, did not allow for this goal to be achieved. Not even close. High definition 3D rendering was taking its first baby steps and was barely used even on high-end pc monitor screens, not to mention smartphone screens or tablet screens.
But in the past 10 years, we have improved a lot regarding two crucial elements for a successful AR:
For AR to have commercial applications, it needs to be rendered so well that it actually becomes indistinguishable from real life. And even though we are far from that point, we can claim that current AR is enough to start doing the trick of making us believe that the 3D rendered model is real. This is crucial for the e-commerce application of AR.
There are several ways in which AR is used for e-commerce. The first and most obvious is to present the potential buyer with a 3D rendering of the product they wish to purchase. This rendering is done using a virtual reality device, normally through a virtual reality headset like Meta Quest, a product created by the former Facebook Inc.
???? Facebook - now Meta - has been steadily pushing towards the Metaverse by buying or creating companies that produce or develop virtual reality headsets, like the former pioneers of the technology, Oculus ????
The second way is perhaps more simple to use - although not necessarily the easiest to make from a technical point of view - and it is to render the 3D of the product by "virtually projecting it" at home, in the workplace, or on ourselves, using our mobile device cameras.
Let’s check out 5 examples of successful AR implementation.
During the peak of the Covid lockdown, Audi launched ZeroLigth, an AR application for their e-commerce, meant to allow potential customers to build and experience
Audi’s 3D rendered car can be interacted by the potential customers through the use of a virtual reality headset.
???? The potential buyer can check the car on a real-life scale, confirm the color, the customization options, and the different kinds and qualities of the interior, and even get inside the car, turn it on, and virtually drive it, like in a video game. ????
Ikea's approach is different from Audi: they want you to be able to project the product in your house, office, or any other location - using your smartphone camera - so you can actually see the size, color matching, and form of the piece of furniture you want to buy, and how it will fit in the place you want to place it.
Ikea Place approach is a pretty simple and straightforward application of AR for e-commerce.
Dulux has closely followed the recipe of Ikea, by creating an app called Dulux Visualizer - a no-brainer, really - that allows you to precisely do that: visualize how your wall will look, if you paint them with one color or the other.
The way this is achieved is the same as Ikea Place, but with some added functionalities smartly implemented to increase virality and the play-factor of this app.
For example, you can try out different colors by recording a video of the walls you want to paint, and later send that video to your friends using the app, for them to offer new color ideas and send you back a customized painted version of your 3D rendered walls.
???? Also, the app has the capacity of using your phone camera to “capture” a specific color, by using the smartphone camera to target any object or painting in the real world, that has a color. Think of it like the Photoshop eyedropper tool. This color can later be made by Dulux, if you so desire. ????
BIC has taken a different approach to AR. Instead of using it to showcase the product, they have decided to use AR as an added value to their product. To achieve it, BIC has created a mobile game called DrawyBook.
The app allows kids to bring their drawings on paper “to life with” using AR. The kids can then bring their drawings back into the app as part of an interactive story which places the child and their creativity at the center of this unique digital experience.
???? BIC has also done something pretty smart here: They have allowed this mobile game to be accessible for anyone, regardless of if the person bought a BIC product or not. Thus, turning the game into a marketing operation for the brand. ????
The final form of AR application for e-commerce is precisely the one developed by Sephora: to apply the 3D rendering unto ourselves.
This is perhaps, the one form of AR that will yield better results and the highest acceptance. A combination of factors - commodity, ease of use, the playfulness of trying out things o ourselves but without having to interact with other humans - makes the use of AR for trying products of fashion and cosmetics, a perfect match.
Sephora Virtual Artist allows you to virtually try different makeup combinations on your face, using your mobile phone.
???? The app scans your face, after which you can virtually try out different kinds of makeup. Besides the try-on, there are options for pictures, full-face looks, and even virtual makeup tutorials.????
If there is one industry that has welcomed AR with open arms, it is the fashion industry. According to research done by ABI, over 120.000 stores will be using AR in their e-commerce by 2022.
And most of these stores will be fashion related. This is due to a combination of factors: firstly, current AR technology is pretty efficient at rendering clothes and other complements - shoes, jewelry, hats, and the like - to be virtually projected in your body using your smartphone.
Secondly, the fashion industry is the perfect place for trying things on. Most of the fashion-related products are bought as “impulse buying” and the need to see how it looks on us, is a key factor to close the deal. Now, during the Covid pandemic, the opportunity to try things on has been diminishing a lot. Many traditional brick and mortar stores have had to close their fitting rooms due to sanitary concerns and AR solutions have become a lifeline for the industry.
Add to this the viral power of social media and the immersive experience of AR and you get a winning combination. A combination that has already been implemented by several major brands like:
✔️ Saks Fifth Ave: With Project Saks Fifth Ave, an AR app that allows customers to view all the collection of Saks clothing and accessories either at the store using virtual reality glasses or at home via their smartphones, and can use the same app to buy any item from the store.
✔️ Ralph Lauren’s Fifth Avenue: Also in the famous Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren's bet on AR is to use their fitting room mirrors to allow the potential customer to virtually try on any product they bring into the fitting room. The technology has been developed by Oak Labs and the fashion brand claims that has increased engagement by over 90 percent, since its implementation.
???? The same idea is currently being developed by different fashion-related companies - like Nike with is Nikeland Metaverse - to allow potential customers to virtually try out their products, and have an idea of how these products will look on themselves. ????
✔️ Balenciaga's “Afterworld”: Balenciaga's approach to AR is a bit different. The brand used AR not to provide the customers with access to a virtual version of their product, but instead, as a means to provide brand-exclusive content: a fashion show. Under the name of Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, Balenciaga hosted a virtual reality runway show for its autumn/winter 2021 collection. The show was broadcasted live to 300 guests all over the world, who received from Balenciaga each one a pair of Oculus virtual reality headsets.
The future looks bright for AR, and it is quite sure that more and varied forms of using AR will be developed during this year, always with the same goal: to gap the real and virtual world and allow customers to have a deeper understanding and higher engagement with the products or services of their interest.
If you want to know more about AR, the Metaverse, and the current and future trends of e-commerce, we would love to share with you our E-commerce trends and standards for 2022!
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