Today's omnichannel shoppers are constantly looking for the next great experience. For some, that means highly personalized shopping experiences that cater to your individual preferences. Meanwhile, for others, it means an immersive experience that engages the senses and puts the products in the context of the space they will inhabit.
Even when it's convenient to click "Buy" from bed in our pajamas, there are still elements of the retail experience that can only be found in person. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are ways to get the best of both worlds.
The implementation of virtual reality and augmented reality in eCommerce intends to close the gap between online and in-person shopping by providing product information through the customer's senses.
What is virtual reality/augmented reality?
These terms are often used together or interchangeably, but they actually refer to different things. Let's explore both concepts and how they intertwine:
- Virtual reality: When you put on a VR headset, you are immersed in an entirely new world that replaces your real-life environment.
- Augmented reality: A “lite” version of VR most commonly used in smartphone applications. It adds virtual elements to a camera or a recording made with a phone or other devices. For instance, Snapchat filters or the Pokémon Go app.
These technologies have become so popular that the global AR in the retail market is projected to reach USD 4.6 billion by 2026, from USD 1.5 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 20.0% from 2021-2026. The reason why they've become so popular is that both technologies can provide consumers with a more engaging shopping experience that makes them feel satisfied and confident about their purchase —convenience without compromise.
Why has augmented reality gone mainstream?
Being less complex —and less expensive— to implement than VR headsets, augmented reality has become a popular tool for providing contextual information about specific products. These are the 5 main factors driving the popularity of augmented reality in eCommerce:
- A sense of ownership: Watching the product overlay your spaces or body makes you feel it is yours, which accelerates the conversion.
- It makes customers part of a story: AR is a big trend, and many customers like to feel they are part of something big. Augmented reality in eCommerce allows your brand to connect with them.
- It looks cool: AR looks really good and creates a sense of wonder in customers, further accelerating the conversion.
- It lets customers “try on” products in advance: It’s hard to gauge how certain products will look on you or in your space. AR gives you a good approximation and helps customers feel secure in their choice.
- The social element: Sharing products you “tried on” with an Augmented Reality app lets customers ask for opinions from friends and family without leaving the comfort of their own homes.
Is there a market for augmented reality and virtual reality in eCommerce?
Augmented reality in eCommerce is a growing trend —and a fast-growing one. So much so, that by 2020 the global market was estimated at $1.5 billion, but by 2026 it could reach $4.6 billion, according to Banuba.
On the other hand, virtual reality is less widespread for digital shopping because it is much more involved and expensive to develop a headset experience than it is to develop an AR app for your phone or desktop. While AR remains the most prevalent type of virtual reality used in marketing and commerce, VR still has a place in the market.
Can virtual reality and augmented reality in eCommerce increase revenue?
Both of these technologies are proven to increase companies' revenue (when applied correctly). Let's check out a couple of statistics:
- 71% of retail shoppers would shop more often if they used AR apps.
- 40% of consumers consider that they are ready to pay more for a product if they are allowed to test it through AR first.
- According to a Harvard study, customers who use AR spend 20.7% more time on the commerce app and view 1.28 times more products on average. But the biggest find of the study was that the likelihood of making a purchase was almost 20% higher than shoppers who did not use AR on the commerce app.
Does your brand need to implement virtual reality and augmented reality in eCommerce?
Many industries benefit from AR/VR to represent complex structures in novel and productive ways, like automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, architecture, supply chain management, and so on. When it comes to commerce, it can be used to improve upon established systems and provide an immersive experience to the online shoppers.
In fact, AR makes retail customers more confident they are buying the product they need. So much so, that they are willing to shell out a bit more for that sense of security. Is that definitive proof that all brands that sell something need it? Not necessarily, but the market is trending towards it.
Let’s explore 9 AR/VR use cases to provide some context on how they can boost online commerce experiences.
First, we'll start with AR/VR's features to try on makeup, glasses, clothes, and shoes:
Services like Snapchat’s “Catalog-Powered AR Shopping Lenses” allow customers to try on glasses and makeup through an AR filter that superimposes each product on their face.
It gives customers a good idea of how the product will look on their faces without having to buy it before testing.
Similarly, L’Oréal’s “Signature Faces” allows customers to try makeup products from Maybelline, L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Urban Decay, and more through several social media apps.
On the other hand, Walmart’s “Choose My Model” function allows users to select from dozens of models of varying sizes and heights to virtually try on clothes.
The idea is to provide a wide range of body types, allowing users to find one that represents them the best and determine how each piece will look on them.
How about attending car showrooms from the comfort of your home?
BMW provides AR features to let users effectively experience showrooms from their homes, customizing cars with different colors or styles using their tablets or phones. It also provides more immersive VR experiences with goggles, simulating being inside the model.
Relay Cars, on the other hand, allows car shoppers to explore thousands of models from dozens of brands in AR and 3D using smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers.
What about positioning furniture before buying?
Like clothes, it can be frustrating to shop for furniture online because you often don’t have a good idea of the size of the piece you are looking at. Wayfair and IKEA are two brands trying to close the gap between online and in-person furniture shopping, by implementing augmented reality in eCommerce.
Wayfair’s “View in Room” app contains millions of home items experienced through an AR interface, with the ability to add multiple products simultaneously and use real-time lighting for the closest approximation possible.
IKEA’s IKEA Place app is similar, allowing shoppers to use AR with their smartphone camera to place furniture items into their homes, scaled to their real-life size.
AR/VR goes far enough as to allow users to test wall paint! How? Let's check it out below.
SWF’s AR Colour Visualiser is an app that allows customers to test out over 1000 wall paint colors by the German brand from the comfort of their home, letting them play around with the decoration before committing to a specific color.
The barriers to implement them.
Both augmented reality and virtual reality in eCommerce have barriers that brands must overcome to implement them successfully. The following are some of the most prominent ones:
- Price: One of the most limiting factors is price. The development of VR implementations is expensive and requires coordination with multiple experts in different fields. Purchasing multiple VR headsets for customer use also adds to the costs.
- Lack of knowledge: A lack of awareness about VR technology can cause rejection in employees, who may fear its introduction will disrupt established workflows.
- The VR user experience: Some people are susceptible to motion sickness and fatigue when using headsets. However, shortening VR sessions and deploying more sophisticated motion tracking can mitigate the problem.
- Price: Similar to VR, AR projects accumulate costs through development, hardware, services, and software licenses.
- Leadership issues: At the higher managerial levels, there could be a lack of confidence in the technology. Or, on the other hand, excessive confidence without proper understanding of application and business benefits.
- Applicability and deployment: Finding the most feasible and impactful implementation of augmented reality in eCommerce can take a lot of time and resources.
- Cybersecurity: AR apps deliver a brand's intellectual property to devices outside the brand’s secure network. In other words, when implementing AR, measures must be taken to protect intellectual property.
- Customer privacy: AR-enabled devices can capture video, sounds, user location, and other data. In this regard, brands must make users aware of what is being captured and how the information is used.
- Enterprise systems integration: The data used in AR apps is extracted from various enterprise systems. Integration with these systems can be costly and difficult.
- 3D content: AR projects should find solutions to reuse existing 3D assets. Otherwise, 3D designers will spend hours reworking content they have already created before.
While these challenges can be difficult to tackle, the benefits of implementing augmented reality and virtual reality in eCommerce far outweigh the efforts.
The final answer: a practical checklist.
The more you learn about these AR/VR use cases, the more you notice they essentially provide visual and spatial context your clients used to only be able to get in a physical store or by buying items and getting rough estimations of how they’ll fit based on the measurements.
So the main questions to determine whether AR/VR would be helpful to your brand would be:
- Would our customers’ experience be improved beyond the novelty and entertainment factors?
- How will customer sampling behavior change with a “virtual try-on”? Will they sample more products? Will this motivate them to purchase more?
- For new customers, will it reduce the anxiety to buy something they haven’t tried before?
- Will the interface accurately represent how the product looks in context?
- Are the products we sell sensitive to the size and/or shapes of the body?
- Do we have/can we take very high-resolution product images from multiple angles?
- Do we have the resources to create the functionality from scratch or integrate it into other apps? Would our offering stay relevant after development time is done?
- If we were to commit to implementing it, which barrier to entry would limit us the most? What could we do to overcome it?
To use or not to use.
The implementation of augmented reality and virtual reality in eCommerce are big investments that must be studied carefully before committing. Many factors must be considered in the brand’s context to come up with a solution that improves the experience and maximizes revenue the most.
But, one thing is crystal clear: they are both associated with a greater feeling of context and a reduction of purchase anxiety that leads to more confidence: customers feel more secure about a decision that was made after a VR/AR session and are more likely to convert based on it.
This was a (relatively) brief introduction to the benefits and the challenges of using virtual reality and augmented reality in eCommerce, aimed at giving you context and helping you make informed decisions in the future.