An Introduction to AR and VR in eCommerce

April 5, 2018 by Simon Ironmonger

Augmented and Virtual Reality are buzzwords on everyone’s lips right now and the use of AR and VR in eCommerce is exciting both customers and merchants.

Two of the key reasons why eCommerce retailers are so interested in these emerging technologies is the significant potential they offer stores to increase sales and overall customer shopping experience. This interest in AR and VR in eCommerce has helped drive a significant amount of investment in the industry and according to Digi-Captial AR & VR startups raised a massive $3.6b in last 12 months. With over three-quarters of a billion dollars invested in the first three months of this year alone, there’s no doubt, this is big business.AR and VR Leaders

So what is VR?

Virtual Reality combines technology and design to create immersive environments which, if done successfully, make users believe they are actually in the simulated environment. In a nutshell the real world is blocked out and everything you see is virtual, how this is achieved is almost exclusively through a VR headset.

VR / AR Differences

And what is AR?

Augmented Reality merges the real world with virtual objects allowing interaction with each other in a seamless environment.

AR really exploded into everyday life in 2016 with the release of the hugely successful Pokémon Go mobile game. For those of us who weren’t caught up in the Pokémon hype our first experience with AR was most likely with Facebook’s selfie masks, which were released later in 2016.

Why the eCommerce world is interested

One of the biggest hurdles online merchants face is reassuring customers that the product they are considering to purchase is actually what they are looking for. Shoppers always want to get a better look and feel for a product before they make a purchase. The key for stores is removing the doubt that creeps in when customers feel like they are gambling by buying something online which they haven’t fully seen or experienced. By significantly enhancing the shopping experience through immersive browsing using AR/VR, or a combination of the two, a retailer can do just that.

Examples of AR and VR in eCommerce

One of the earliest pioneers of Augmented Reality was beloved Danish toy manufacturer LEGO. Although they first used AR technology in their brick and mortar stores the potential this technology demonstrated was clear to see. By allowing you to scan boxed, unassembled kits, shoppers were able to see what the fully assembled kit would look like and how exactly they can play with it.

LEGO have since developed their AR technology and released the LEGO AR Studio app which allows you to play with digital versions of selected LEGO sets in real-world scenes.

Another pioneer, this time using Virtual Reality in eCommerce, involved a combined effort between well-established Australian department store chain Myer and eBay Australia. Together they developed the first-ever VR department store, which using only your eyes (and a pair of eBay Shopticals) allows you to browse and search for items in great detail.

ShelfZone by Italian tech company inVRsion have taken Virtual Reality in eCommerce to the next level. ShelfZone is a retail space simulator which makes the most of HTC’s Vive headset, reproducing shops, supermarkets and malls in stunning realism.

Swedish furniture kings IKEA have had a long-term interest in how tech can help them drive traffic to their physical stores, but also help their digital business grow. IKEA have experimented with both VR & AR and as a result in 2017 a record 2.3b people visited IKEA online. The video below shows how you can use the IKEA app to scan products from its furniture catalogue and then see them in your own home thanks to AR technology.

In March 2018 French cosmetic giants L’Oréal acquired leading makeup AR company ModiFace and their message was clear:

“ModiFace will support the reinvention of the beauty experience around innovative services to help our customers discover, try and choose products and brands. We at L’Oréal and ModiFace want to pioneer this new page of the beauty industry and serve our customers with innovative services and experiences.” – Lubomira Rochet, Chief Digital Officer L’Oréal

ModiFace has been working with similar big brands such as Sephora for around a decade and boasts AR tech which supports the ability to provide beauty try-on simulations such as the 3D hair coloration as shown above and other options like lipstick try-ons.

“Interactivity leads to immersion, and that immersion leads to conversion”

As we’ve seen, the use of AR and VR in eCommerce is still in its infancy in terms of its implementation within the market, however this immersive technology is already upon us and it is only set to come on leaps and bounds from here. We are now able to not only mimic the shopping experience virtually, but actually enhance and improve it, removing the doubt that customers have traditionally had regarding making purchases online.

As the use of AR and VR become more commonplace it’s clear the eCommerce world will have to do what they can to keep up. The biggest winners will be companies willing to invest early and embrace the change or simply risk being left behind. After all, as CEO of YouVisit Abi Mandelbaum states: “Interactivity leads to immersion, and that immersion leads to conversion” (HT smile.io).

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Simon Ironmonger

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