In the spring of 2020, most of the world was forced into their homes. Retail stores across the globe closed their doors for months; some halted their services. Others took an innovative approach to making their retail space more COVID-19 amenable – and augmented reality an approach that enabled this.
As consumers flood to the online space, retail eCommerce sales are now projected to grow more than 11% worldwide between 2022 and 2025. Retailers are feeling the pressure to become technologically advanced, and thus, more stores are implementing AR and VR solutions.
Considering that 71% of shoppers say they would shop more often if they could do it through AR, it’s no surprise that AR ecommerce is becoming more commonplace. In fact,many of us may have already come across the technology unknowingly in-store or online.
But what is AR? And how is augmented reality in eCommerce improving the consumer experience? Let's dig into the history, evolution, and future of this fascinating technology.
What is AR?
Put simply, augmented reality (AR) is the overlay of computer-generated content on the real world. This can be in the form of sound, video, graphics, or GPS data.
It has been around in some form since the 1960s, but it was only in recent years that the technology advanced to the point where augmented reality in retail could become mainstream and be used by businesses and consumers daily.
The big shift was mobile apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. With nascent AI technology that allowed for things like background filters, object detection, and more, AR started seamlessly integrating itself into general consumer consciousness.
From there, platforms like Google Maps began integrating AR to assist you with directions, and other tech companies such as Meta (previously Facebook) started promising to scale up their AR and VR operations so users could interact with each other in a virtual world.
These are just some of the ways that AR in the retail industry and elsewhere is being used today – but we’ve only scratched the surface.
Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
You may be wondering, “Isn’t the Metaverse virtual reality?” It is, at least in part. But augmented reality and virtual reality are two different things. Let's take a closer look at the AR vs VR comparison.
Virtual reality is a completely immersive experience where you are transported to a different world. This can be used for gaming, entertainment, or even training simulations.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, adds computer-generated content to the real world. It does not transport you to another place; instead, it enhances your current surroundings. For this reason, augmented reality and retail can sync better for delivering a contextually immersive shopping experience.
For example, you might use AR to view AR visuals of furniture products in your living room, or see directions overlaid on a real-world street. On the other hand, VR will transport you to a completely computer-generated street, which you could then explore.
History of AR
While it might seem like augmented reality is a brand-new technology, it is much older than many people think. However, it wasn’t always referred to in the same fashion.
In 1962, American filmmaker Morton Heilig introduced the world to the Sensorama, which some have dubbed the first VR experience. Truly, it should be known more as the first AR experience; it used real-world effects like wind, smells, and noise to simulate riding a motorcycle down the streets of New York.
At this time, and for years afterward, there wouldn’t be a phrase for AR. Not until some aerospace engineers decided to throw their hat in the ring.
Coining the phrase
Tom Caudell and David Mizell, researchers at Boeing, coined the term in 1992 with their paper, “Augmented reality: An application of heads-up display technology to manual manufacturing processes.”
Even three decades ago, the possibilities and potential of AR were already being explored – but the computing power to bring it to the masses was still years away.
A new generation
As the page turned on the 20th century, society began shifting toward smaller and smaller devices. The potential for AR started to grow. In 2003, Sony released the EyeToy: a webcam that tracked player movement and displayed it on the screen in real-time. This was a huge step in not only gaming, but also general computing.
Soon after, companies like BMW started using AR for print advertising, leveraging the increased computing power of devices to place digital objects in the real world. This allowed people to see what a product would look like in their own home without ever having to leave their living room, also making augmented reality for retail more practical.
As it worked for print advertising, it soon worked for eCommerce, with companies like IKEA and Lowe’s following suit. These included some of the common AR in retail examples.
How AR is used today
In the present day, AR technology in retail is nearly ubiquitous. Try-it-on and see-it-in-your-space features are now commonplace for many retailers.
With Avataar’s out of the box solution, companies can quickly convert their 2D product catalogs to 3D for use in AR. The AR experiences link to the e-commerce store’s product pages to provide an immersive experience for customers looking to buy products online.
This can be understood with an Augmented reality retail example.
Need a new couch? See how it would look in your living room with a few simple clicks! Wondering if a refrigerator will fit in your kitchen? Use your phone camera to place the refrigerator in your space and tap to see if it fits! 3D and interactive AR for e-commerce provides companies with endless benefits, including:
- Increased conversion rates: An immersive experience means that customers are more likely to purchase items. Retailers using 3D AR have reported upto 94% increase in sales conversions.
- Reduced returns: Customers can try before they buy, meaning that they are less likely to return items that don’t fit or look how they thought.
- Improved customer satisfaction: By providing a realistic representation of products, customers can make informed decisions and are more satisfied with their purchases.
These are just a few of the many benefits that AR brings to eCommerce. And as technology continues to evolve, we can only imagine what new possibilities will be made available to businesses and consumers alike!
Where AR technology is going
AR's implementation is being helped along by SaaS companies providing turnkey solutions on platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, meaning it is quickly advancing through the eCommerce space to provide interactive experiences for customers online.
But the walls of your internet browser are not going to hold it for long. The increase of "Phygital" retail experiences will bring AR to the brick and mortar stores of old, allowing things like experience zones, infinite aisles, and even hologram sales assistants. This will help expand and elevate the overall AR retail experience.
Check some more examples of what that might look like here.
Roadblocks that stand in the way
This isn't going to happen all at once, as implementing AR will require significant investments in time and money for retailers – though those costs are coming down with new turnkey solutions.
The other potential roadblock is data privacy concerns. As we become more comfortable sharing our location and personal information, companies must be transparent about how they are using it and ensure that consumers' data is secure.
If these issues can be overcome, the future of AR in the retail market is looking bright. We've come a long way from a few exhaust fumes and a fan blowing in your face!