Augmented reality is transforming how businesses connect with customers. Major brands like Sephora and IKEA are leading the charge with innovative solutions to drive conversions and increase customer satisfaction. These initiatives have proven to be incredibly beneficial during the pandemic and will continue to pioneer change in how we shop online.
It’s not only the big brands that benefit from this technology. Small eCommerce shop owners can also implement augmented reality to boost sales. Here’s what you need to know about AR in eCommerce and how you can use it to increase sales.
What is Augmented Reality?
While you may not be able to define AR, you’ve likely used it at some point in recent years. If you enjoy using filters on Instagram and Snapchat, you’re an AR user. If you drove up that step count chasing around your kids during the peak of Pokemon Go (and maybe caught a few yourself), you’ve used AR.
Augmented reality displays a digital image or 3D rendering over the real world, which can be viewed with an AR-compatible device— i.e., your smartphone or a pair of smart glasses. It differs from virtual reality (VR), which immerses you in a fabricated digital world rather than displaying digital elements in the real world.
Learn more in our Complete Beginner’s Guide to AR.
Benefits of Using AR in eCommerce
It’s natural to feel hesitant in the face of new technology, especially when your business budget is concerned. At first glance, AR may seem like a novelty or gimmick that quickly fades from the customer’s mind— when was the last time you went Pokemon hunting?
Yet, AR is not only persevering; it’s growing. Businesses in every industry, from education to healthcare to construction, are capitalizing on this technology and implementing it into their core business strategies.
Here are some of the proven benefits of using augmented reality in eCommerce.
If you own an eCommerce store, you’re likely well aware of abandoned cart statistics. Implementing AI-driven tools can help with retargeting and nourishing customers to complete transactions. Augmented reality can take those steps even further.
Shopify released some amazing statistics from their platform users who implemented AR. In one example, Gunnar’s Kennels— a dog kennel store— increased cart and order conversions by 43%. Similarly, fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff increased conversions by 65% with AR.
AR allows the customer to interact with the product before purchasing. This could mean trying on a pair of glasses using a filter or playing with a 3D model of a dog crate to see if it fits in their home. One of the key barriers eCommerce shops and customers face with online shopping is the intangible nature of the experience. AR bridges that gap.
Improves Customer Satisfaction
What happens when you order something online, and it doesn’t fit or work as expected? You return it. As the world started shifting away from brick-and-mortar stores to online shopping, many brands were pressured to improve their return policies. Clothing retailers, in particular, had to create an option for people to try on the clothes and return them without additional costs to build customer trust.
This issue put many brands between a rock and a hard place. If you didn’t offer free shipping and returns, your customer would go to the competition. If you did, you had to work that loss into your budget.
One of the other notable benefits of AR in eCommerce is reduced return rates. Presenting an opportunity to try something on before ordering or interacting with a model of the product helps customers feel more confident in their order. Gunnar’s Kennels, mentioned above, saw a 5% decrease in returns in addition to their improved conversion rate.
In a study commissioned by Snap (the artist formerly known as Snapchat), researchers revealed that 66% of AR eCommerce shoppers were less likely to return a product.
What does this mean for the average eCommerce retailer? Lower costs, higher customer satisfaction rates, and a smaller carbon footprint. Win, win, win.
As a product-based retailer, you probably wonder what engagement matters to your business. Once you sell the couch, what do you care about how often someone sits on it? You should because it increases positive feedback if someone loves your product, but more on that later.
Engagement. You may not have an app or platform you’re selling, but you do have a website. In fact, that website is the crux of your business. And the more time someone spends on your website, the more likely they will purchase something.
Furthermore, more time on your website also makes the benevolent overlords at Google happy. If you look at your Google Analytics page (which you should), you’ll see how much time people are spending on your site. More browsing time and lower bounce rates contribute to SEO— a.k.a., your likelihood of people seeing your products on the first page of the Google results.
Audi used this theory well. This luxury car brand elevated its customer experience by creating 3D models for customers to play with on the site. The 3D model can be configured to the customer’s liking, allowing them to personalize their car and see minute details without stepping into a store. As a result, engagement rates shot up 66%.
Increases Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Social media has transformed word-of-mouth marketing into world-of-mouth marketing. Product recommendations are no longer shared over coffee or in passing but online for audiences to see with a direct purchasing link. Customer satisfaction contributes to this cause, but so does the novelty of AR shopping.
Creating an engaging digital experience encourages people to share via social media, extending reach while also creating user-generated content for you to repurpose. Living Wine Labels are a prime example of brands using AR to sell a product and create a shareable experience.
How eCommerce Businesses Use AR
Understanding the benefits of AR for your eCommerce business is just one piece of the puzzle. The next is figuring out how you’ll apply it to your shopping experience. Here are a few ideas to consider.
Virtual Dressing Rooms
Online clothing and accessory brands can create AR experiences for potential customers to try on products before adding them to their cart. Zenni Optical, an eyewear company, was a pioneer in this effort. This brand created an AR-esque experience before smartphones were commonplace by allowing users to upload a photo of their face and superimpose the glasses over it.
Consider how you can use 3D models and AR to create a virtual dressing room for your customers to try on products before buying.
Testing Furniture Fit and Placement
If you sell furniture and home decor, you can create an AR experience for shoppers to place your product in their home before purchasing. What will that piece of art look like above the sofa? How would that accent chair look in green? Purple? No? How about blue?
While this feature may seem like something relegated to big box brands like IKEA, creating 3D product models and superimposing them with a smart device is more accessible than you think.
What if you have a complicated product that requires assembly or a learning curve? You can create an augmented reality solution to assist with product training and showcase how to assemble that ornate baby crib or learn how to use the various settings on your latest piece of home gym equipment.
On the flip side of product training is product troubleshooting. Rather than a traditional user manual, what if you had an AR solution that scans the blinky light and tells someone what’s wrong? Many appliance and electronic companies implemented AR troubleshooting during the pandemic to facilitate virtual home visits and customer-led repairs.
Social Media Marketing
If you just want to get your toes wet in the world of AR, and you’re not ready to bet on your entire product catalog, try a simple filter for marketing purposes. You can create a filter with a few key accessories to try on with a link to your shop or a few bestselling pieces for viewers to showcase in their homes.
Don’t get caught up in the complexity of this technology; there are simple ways to use AR for your eCommerce business.
AR Limitations for eCommerce Businesses
Augmented reality isn’t a perfect solution, nor is it for everyone. Don’t listen to anyone who says it is. As with any technology, there will always be pitfalls and limitations to consider. Here are a few to ponder:
Cost-Prohibitive for Small Brands
Many AR solutions are expensive and cost-prohibitive to smaller brands. While solutions for these businesses are in the works, it may take time to find one that’s workable without the resources of IKEA or Wal-Mart. Still, highlighting a few products with AR is a step in the right direction.
Ongoing Project Updates
Another challenge is that implementing AR isn’t a one-and-done project. Your product offerings change over time, and you’ll need to create new 3D models and AR representations as your catalog updates. Fortunately, AR implementation is a front-loaded project, so later updates won’t be as challenging as the initial launch.
AR is a specialized technology that’s relatively new in our daily lives. That leaves a lot of knowledge gaps for staff members, marketers, eCommerce business owners, and even developers. It’s a “you don’t know what you don’t know” situation. However, this creates an opportunity to work with burgeoning agencies and development teams to create solutions for your brand, learning together as you go.
Remember when it was cool for a business to have an app? That novelty faded. Now, the last thing people want to do is download another app for your business. The solution is to find something that works with your eCommerce platform, like Shopify or WooCommerce. Better yet, find a solution users can try via their web browser to minimize customer friction.
How Small Businesses can Incorporate AR
If you’ve read through everything here and are excited to start implementing AR into your shopping experience, that’s great. However, before you start shopping around, take some time to reflect and clarify your business goals and objectives. What’s the realistic timeline and budget for your business? What does success look like to you? Are you going all in or highlighting a few key products?
Next, determine whether your platform is AR compatible. Will you need to change eCommerce platforms to achieve your goals? This issue is, in itself, a huge undertaking.
One of the major aspects of creating an AR eCommerce experience is creating 3D models of your product line. This potentially means capturing clear product images from all angles or working with an agency to help.
Finally, finding an AR agency that works with small eCommerce brands can be challenging, but we’re here to help. Contact us and let us know your goals so we can chart the course ahead.
Creating success in your small eCommerce business is entirely possible. The technology to compete against major global brands becomes more accessible every day. Consider creating an AR business strategy to increase engagement, boost conversions, cut costs, and become a more eco-friendly business.