How to Give Your Customers the Ultimate Online Shopping Experience with Augmented Reality for Ecommerce

Brands and ecommerce stores looking to stand out from their competitors have increasingly turned to augmented reality (AR) technology to give customers a more immersive and engaging experience.

While AR usage in ecommerce is not new, it is becoming more common as it continues to evolve from a mere novelty to an indispensable retail tool. In fact, the AR industry is set to be valued at $18 billion by 2023, according to Statista.

Even more important; it has been reported that 61% of online shoppers prefer to make purchases on sites that offer augmented reality online shopping experiences.

Hidden Creative in the United Kingdom conducted a study where they advertised a toy to 200 parents using both traditional ads and with AR. They found that 45% of parents wanted to purchase a toy from viewing the traditional ads versus 74% of parents who experienced the ads as immersive AR. Furthermore, most parents were prepared to pay two pounds more for the toy when they viewed the AR ads versus the traditional 2D ads.

Clearly, AR works.

What AR is

Before we get into how to use AR for your Shopify or Magento store, let’s look at exactly what this technology is. To put it as simply as possible, AR is computer generated images and content that is superimposed onto the real world.

You view the computer generated content on a screen. Nowadays, that would generally be your phone. While you view the real world with either your front-facing or back-facing camera, the computer generated AR objects would appear on your screen overlaid onto the reality you are seeing.

For example, if you had your phone’s camera pointed at a real table in your home, AR could show you a computer generated image on your phone’s screen of a lamp sitting on that table.

AR vs VR

You may have seen AR mentioned along with virtual reality (VR), but there are some distinct differences between the two.

As we’ve discussed, AR is when computer generated material is superimposed on top of reality and viewed on a screen. VR, on the other hand, is when the entire environment you are viewing is computer generated and it’s viewed using a special headset to completely immerse the viewer inside the virtual world.

When using VR, a person has to either stay in one spot or be in an empty space with no real-world obstacles they could bump into while interacting with the virtual world. It completely takes them out of reality and places them in the computer generated world. We don’t have virtual reality shopping yet, but someday we’ll probably get there.

When you talk about AR, it is important to remember that there are different types of AR and they all have their various advantages and disadvantages.

Types of AR

When you talk about AR, it is important to remember that there are different types of AR and they all have their various advantages and disadvantages.

Marker-Dependent AR

As you might expect from the name, marker-dependent (or marker-based) AR relies on markers to tell the AR where it needs to appear. When the AR software detects a marker, it uses the information contained in the marker to tell it what to display on the screen you’re using to view it.

This type of AR generally isn’t used in ecommerce because it relies on markers, which customers obviously won’t have in their own homes. It’s best used in places where people can visit, like a museum, for example. Visitors could scan a marker beside a relic and the AR could bring up a 3D model to show what the relic looked like when it was new.

Some types of AR use GPS coordinates as markers to decipher what should be shown on the screen. Pokemon Go famously used this type of AR to tell users where to find Pokemons.

Markerless AR

Unlike the marker-reliant AR, markerless AR requires nothing to tell it where to appear. The software detects specific surfaces to situate itself and display the AR object. It can be programmed to detect faces for items like glasses or make up, or flat surfaces like floors, tables and walls for items like furniture and TVs.

This is the type of AR most commonly used for ecommerce because it doesn’t require markers and therefore customers can easily use it in their own homes. Shoppers can use it to see what a chair would look like in their living rooms, for example. Often, markerless AR comes wrapped in an app. IKEA’s augmented reality app, for example, shows customers what the company’s furniture would look like in their homes.

However, markerless AR does not always need to be contained inside an app. Web-based markerless AR does not require an app or any other type of download. Customers can access it via a link or by scanning a QR code and the AR object is displayed using only a browser-based transparent background in conjunction with a person’s phone camera.

Projection-based AR

This type of AR involves projecting light onto a surface and tracking people’s movement so they can interact with the objects the light creates. One example of this is the Grid company that has a real-world version of the classic arcade game Pong that is projected onto the floor. Players’ movements control the game play, allowing them to control the paddles being projected onto the floor and play the game with their movements.

Augmented Reality in ecommerce

Within the ecommerce realm, AR is generally used to allow customers to view products in their own homes or other spaces they might be. The other main use for AR when it comes to ecommerce is to let customers try on a garment or some other product (like makeup) by having it appear on their own body.

In addition to these practical purposes, AR is also good for making better connections with customers.

More brand recognition

While more and more brands and retailers are getting on board with AR for ecommerce, it can still be the difference maker when someone is choosing a store to shop at or a brand to go with. Retailers that are currently using AR have an obvious advantage over their competitors who aren’t using it yet, especially if customers can use it in a novel way that others haven’t started to yet.

Better brand interaction

The longer you can get a visitor interacting with a product, the higher the probability they will make a purchase. Giving customers the ability to see a product in their own homes and visualize it in their spaces or on their bodies is the next best thing to letting them actually touch the product.

Memorable brand experiences

AR doesn’t necessarily need to be practical for ecommerce. To promote one of its flavors, Ben & Jerry’s created a game using AR where visitors caught virtual marshmallows in their mouths, introducing a gaming element to their advertising. The next time the people who played the game were looking for ice cream to buy, you can bet they remembered their experience with the Ben & Jerry’s ad.

Psychological aspects of AR in ecommerce

Researchers in the aforementioned Hidden Creative study found five psychological aspects for why customers were more willing to buy more and spend more when there was an AR aspect to their ecommerce shopping experience.

1. Sense of ownership

Much like during in-person shopping, when consumers are able to interact with a product, it gives them a sense of ownership over it. Even though AR presents them with a virtual object, being able to see it in their own space will give them a better sense of ownership than viewing a simple 2D image.

2. Storytelling

It’s common knowledge that people are attracted to stories. Simply looking at an ad doesn’t evoke any kind of story, but taking the time to look at a virtual object and maybe even snap a screenshot of it to share with others for their opinion lets shoppers form their own story around the product.

3. Old-fashioned wonder

This one may fade as AR becomes more commonplace, but right now it is still somewhat of a novelty for customers and they want to interact with it because it’s new and interesting and it gives them that sense of wonder like when they were children discovering something new. They tend to transfer that sense of wonder and joy onto the product they are virtually interacting with.

4. Reinforced judgement

Online shopping comes with some inherent risk. You never really know what you’re going to get until it arrives, but being able to “handle” the product ahead of time, even in a virtual setting, reinforces customers’ judgement of it. If it’s something they think looks good and it’s something they may want, being able to “handle” it will reinforce these feelings of desire.

5. Social aspects

Because customers are able to snap screenshots of the virtual objects on their bodies or in their homes and share them with others for an opinion, it introduces a social aspect to online shopping, which is often a solo pursuit. Some companies have even introduced virtual rooms where customers can congregate to share opinions on virtual products.

Practical benefits of AR in ecommerce

Now that we’ve talked about what is going on psychologically for the customer when they are able to virtually handle a product, let’s look into the actual benefits for your ecommerce store.

Allows shoppers to “try” before they buy

By far the most useful benefit when it comes to AR in ecommerce is the ability for online shoppers to see a product in their own spaces. No longer do they have to just look at a two-dimensional picture. Now, they can see what the product will actually look like (or an approximation of it) right there in their own living rooms.

Many shoppers will try out different colors of the same product and AR can let them choose different colors and different sizes to look at all from the comfort of their own homes. They can rotate the object, see it from all different angles and get to really know it before committing to buying it.

Lets shoppers try it on

It’s not only things like furniture that shoppers can try. AR lets them try on shoes, clothing, glasses and makeup, as well. They can get a truer sense of how a garment or accessory will look on their bodies, which gives them that sense of ownership over it that prompts people to buy.

Cuts down on returns and bracket shopping

Stemming directly from the points above, when shoppers can see what a product will look like in their homes or on their own bodies before they buy it, they are more likely to be satisfied with it when it arrives and there is less of a chance they will return it. Higher satisfaction for customers leads to them wanting to shop at an ecommerce site more.

When shoppers can see what something will look like on them before buying, it also helps reduce “bracket shopping.” This is the practice of buying the size that you think you’ll need, plus one size above and one size below, and then keeping the one that fits best and returning the other two. Or, buying products in multiple colors and keeping only the colors you like. With AR, there is no need to make these excess orders and returns.

Makes user manuals more interactive

AR for ecommerce goes beyond the store website. It can be helpful even after the customer has made a purchase. Many brands are now using AR in their user manuals to show rather than tell customers how to use a product and perform light troubleshooting on it. For example, customers can access AR that annotates the physical product and tells customers how to do something or shows them how to access certain parts of the product so they can clean or fix it. Clear instructions also lead to greater customer satisfaction.

How AR can help your ecommerce store

Now that you know the psychology behind using AR for ecommerce and the practical benefits, let’s see how it can help your ecommerce store specifically.

Increase your customer engagement

This is especially true now while AR is just coming out of its novelty phase. If you are the only ecommerce store in your industry to offer AR to customers — or you have better quality AR than your competitors — that is going to give you an advantage.

Even if you’re not the only one using AR, though, having it still motivates customers to interact and engage with products more, increasing the chances that they’ll make a purchase.

Attract new customers

AR capability is another tool you have to draw in customers. Again, if you have the best AR capability in your niche, that’s a big advantage over competitors and will help not only with attracting new customers, but retaining the ones you already have.

Increase conversion rates

Being able to virtually handle a product is often the difference between a customer buying it and talking themselves out of buying it. Shoppers spend more time in your store, more time interacting with a potential purchase and this ultimately leads to more conversions.

How to implement AR in your ecommerce business

When it’s time to take the plunge into AR for your ecommerce store, there are a few key steps you have to consider before implementing it.

Clarify why you want to use it and figure out your goals

Beyond just making more money, figure out why you want to implement AR. Do you want to increase customer satisfaction? Do you want to reduce returns by 50% by the end of the year? Are you going to try and offer AR for all products or just a select few? Knowing why you want to use it and for what purposes will help you figure out a budget for your AR.

Get into the tech specs

Like most things, AR isn’t simply a plug-and-play technology. It runs the gamut from incredibly realistic to incredibly bad. Some AR doesn’t actually give you a fully rendered 3D object to virtually manipulate, but just gives you a 2D image to work with.

Some AR will be able to detect a flat surface and place an object easily while others will need customers to practically stand on their heads to get it to work properly.

You’ll need to decide if you want the AR to be app based or web-based among many other decisions. Spend some time and do some research into it so you’re prepared.

Realism of the objects in AR has a big impact on the technology’s perceived helpfulness for shopping. Research organization Nielsen Norman Group conducted a small study and found that when participants used AR where the objects looked “cartoonish,” they saw it as more of a novelty to play with than a tool. The more real objects looked, the more helpful shoppers viewed the AR tool. (It should be noted that in this small study, the participants didn’t equate poor AR quality with poor product quality.)

Once you do have your AR set up and ready to go, don’t just rely on people discovering it for themselves. Promote it and try to get people using it.

Promote your new tool

Create a demo video

No matter how intuitive the AR might seem, create a video where you demonstrate how to use it so nobody is confused about how it works.

Display clear instructions

To go along with your video, have clear instructions for shoppers who prefer to read. Use text and images to make it as easy as possible to understand.

Make it shareable

Remind shoppers that they can snap screenshots of the products they see on their phone screens to share with others and get their opinions. You may even consider working in other shareable aspects of the AR technology when you are purchasing it. Customers love sharing.

It’s not a matter of if AR is going to become mainstream, but only when. Ecommerce sites that get started now will be ahead of the curve in providing this useful shopping tool to their customers and reaping the benefits.