This article on augmented reality was written by Brendan Scully.
Just a few years ago, it’s like you would have considered virtual and augmented reality technology as something you’d more likely find in Star Trek movies—not at your local electronics store. Not anymore. Now that major companies like Google, Facebook, and Sony have announced or launched VR platforms, it’s clear these technologies are not a thing of science-fiction fantasies. Skeptics need only look to the immense success of Pokemon Go! to realize that consumers are ready for the types of experiences VR and AR can offer.
In fact AR and VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) were a popular topic of discussion at CES, held earlier this month.
Customers today are expecting enhanced customer experiences when they shop in-store. But e-tailers wanting to offer their customers innovative e-commerce services should also pay attention. Augmented reality can enhance your customers’ experiences and you’re your business a boost over your competition. Here are just a few of the possibilities AR offers to ecommerce companies.
Augmented reality can (and already is) dramatically change the way consumers shop. For example, imagine a consumer is browsing online, trying to select new furnishings for their new house. They could be hesitating before making a purchase, because they’re just not sure how a certain item would actually look in their home.
Using AR technology, they can superimpose a scale image of that lamp onto an image of their shelf or nightstand, giving them a better sense of whether it’s something they’d want it their home, making them more confident about making a purchase.
A Sephora app takes a similar approach, allowing users to take selfies and apply virtual cosmetics, instead of heading to the mall to try them in person. Other cosmetics companies have followed suit, including major brands, such as L’Oreal and Yves Rocher.
One of the major obstacles e-commerce companies face is convincing shoppers a product is perfect for them. In person, they can test it before buying it. Online, they have to evaluate an item based on a few pictures and a description. Augmented reality for e-commerce will change that, allowing customers to virtually ‘try before they buy’.
Blending E-commerce with Brick-and-Mortar Stores
E-commerce platforms offer consumers a wealth of useful information, including customer reviews and information about related products. AR technology can bring this holistic digital experience to brick-and-mortar stores.
Shoppers can view a product through their smartphones, using an app which would recognize the item and provide all the important details available online. This also gives retailers an opportunity to show shoppers similar products they may be interested in. LEGO is already using a similar method, enabling customers browsing in their stores to scan a product in a kiosk, offering a view of what the finished project would look like.
It could also help businesses bring more customers into their stores. In the future, it’s possible to imagine a retailer launching a service in which an AR “concierge” guides customers through the store, directing them to merchandise they might enjoy.
Offering Value, Standing Out
It’s important for businesses using augmented reality to treat it as more than just an entertainment tool. To use it effectively, they need to make their AR services truly valuable to customers. Being able to “use” a product from the comfort of your own home isn’t merely a bonus feature—it leverages AR to provide consumers with a legitimately useful experience.
However, don’t dismiss the novelty of augmented reality. While customers may take it for granted in years to come, right now, it’s still fairly new and exciting. Using AR will help you stand apart from your competitors. If five different companies sell essentially the same products, but only one allows shoppers to virtually interact with those products via AR, that business has an advantage over the competition.
Customizing the Experience
Plus, augmented reality can make it easier for consumers to customize their shopping experiences.
For example, Converse offers an application allowing users to try on their shoes from their own homes. Customers simply point their phones at their foot, and an image of the footwear appears directly on their phone screens, so they can see what the footwear would look like. Other clothing brands use a similar technique, letting customers switch between styles and colors, without ever having to remove any clothing.
Virtual and augmented reality will make online shopping more personal, unique, and exciting. And there are already a lot of AR products available on the Alibaba.com website. The businesses that pay attention to these technologies will be the ones most likely to benefit.
Bio: Brendan Scully began his career as an undergraduate research assistant at Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Labs, focusing on the potential for humanistic design in Augmented Reality. Now he is an Augmented Reality Producer and currently CEO of Scully Creative Labs LLC based in Brooklyn, New York where he oversees a portfolio of internal and client-sponsored product development initiatives. Follow us on Twitter: @bscully.