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Augmented Reality in Commerce

A photo of a man with glasses showcasing augmented reality in commerce on a blue background.

This talk was originally presented at Commerce+ in 2018 in New York City. In this series, we've pulled together relevant talks from our past events in Sydney, London and New York.

What is Commerce+

For the last two years, Shopify Plus has hosted Commerce+, a global thought leadership conference that brought together industry leaders to share their knowledge and best practices in the ever-evolving world of commerce. The insightful discussions at the conference have also highlighted the remarkable influence of the gaming trend, emphasizing how gamification strategies are reshaping the landscape of modern commerce.

During this talk, Daniel Beauchamp, Head of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) at Shopify, and Ryan Walker, the co-founder of the modern furniture brand HORNE, discuss how AR is transforming the online retail space. For a seamless buying experience, consumers can visualize products from the comfort of their own homes.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Beauchamp: Today I’m joined by Ryan Walker from HORNE. Can you tell us a bit about HORNE?

Walker: HORNE is an online retailer of modern home décor. It's a curated selection of modern home décor that we source from all over the world and sell in North America.

Beauchamp: Awesome. Today we're going to be exploring how you and some of our other merchants have been using AR. Just to make sure we're all on the same page of what AR is, in a nutshell, it’s the ability to place virtual objects or things in your space to essentially augment your reality. Before proceeding, we’re going to show you a quick video of what I mean by this.

Let's say I'm looking for a desk lamp and I find this one in the video above. I can just click on the photo and a 3D photorealistic model of the lamp will appear in front of me that’s exactly the same size and scale of the real object. I can move it around, I can get up close and inspect details, and when I’m confident I want to purchase it, I can just scroll down and use Apple Pay to check out. I never left the website and I didn't have to download any specific app. I was doing that whole purchase with the assistance of AR. So Ryan, what does AR mean for you in your business?

Walker: We view AR technology as this awesome tool that's going to allow our customers to engage with our products in a new and innovative way. And through that engagement, we fully anticipate that we're going to see both an increase in customer confidence, which is hopefully going to drive an increase in sales and ultimately a decrease in our returns.

Beauchamp: There are lamps on your store that are like $7,000. Beautiful lamps, but if I was purchasing a lamp and all I had to go off of is a photo, I'd say, “Well, you know what? Maybe I would like to see it in person before buying a $7,000 lamp.” But with AR, I could put it in front of me.

Serge Mouille light

Walker: Right, and that $7,000 lamp you're referring to is a Serge Mouille light, a beautiful light with a long history. The scale of that lamp is very hard to understand for a lot of customers when they're looking at it online. Even though we show it in-situation shots, it doesn't really give the perspective of how big this lamp is. It is an enormous lamp and so being able to project it next to a chair for example and realize it's way too big to put by a chair, is going to help customers understand its scale to make that purchase.

Beauchamp: Augmented reality is hot new tech. How often are you thinking of these kinds of emerging technologies and how you can use it?

Walker: I would say daily. We think about how we can utilize technology to do a couple of things: to either make the online shopping experience as streamlined as possible or improve the back-end logistics. How can we make our supply chain logistics work a little bit better or our warehouse logistics work a little better?

Beauchamp: One of the things that we do at Shopify is try to democratize tech. We can go out and bring all these new emerging technologies to our merchants, so that they don't need to spend budget and time and everything trying to figure out how they can invest in AR, or even how to enable Apple Pay. You check a checkbox and it's just there. And so with AR, we wanted to make sure that the barrier to get started was as low as possible. Last month we released Shopify AR, which is a tool that allows merchants to get 3D models made of their products, upload them to Shopify, and then have those AR experiences work right on the website. And you were one of the merchants in the launch cohort. So can you talk about your experience exploring AR?

Walker: The process of starting to finish was so simple. I don't even think it could have been more simple. We basically provided the designers who made the 3D models a couple of images, dimensions of the products, and then we gave a few detail shots. They came back to us with the first draft within a couple of weeks. And then a few days later, we were able to fine tune it and get those 3D models to look realistic.

Beauchamp:  Okay. So let’s play a quick game showing a few of the color variations of one of your lamps.

Two horne lamps side by side in a phone display

So here's the game: Which one is virtual and which one is real? It’s a trick question—they're all fake. And that's what's awesome, when you can’t tell the difference between a 3D model and a picture of the actual product. You can use the 3D model to generate a product on white a backdrop. And then if you want to shoot a product on a different backdrop or a different angle, you don't have to call up your photographer again and ask, “Oh can you get all those 48 variants again?”

Walker: Traditionally to do a photoshoot, you have to scout the location, rent the location, get the photographer, bring the products in, and then you spend a couple of days shooting and you might end up with two, three, four, maybe five images from that whole endeavor. Costs adds up. Now we can actually have these designers, these 3D designers create a rendered world in which we can place objects and move them around and really choose exactly how we want everything to look.

Beauchamp: Okay. I’m going to play a quick video of some other Shopify merchants who have been using Shopify AR. So, here's a speaker for your electronics, you can see how it fits, but you can also spin it around and get up close to look at the details. The Instant Pot now previewed in your kitchen, and it's important that AR isn't just about seeing if something fits in your space. It's getting up close and seeing the details. But then for other products like this bike, for example, being able to place that bike in front of you, get up close and nerd out about the type of gear mechanism that it has and actually feel like the product is there in front of you.

And, this is one of my favorites: It's a miniature of the main character from Seinfeld, Jerry’s apartment. So of toys and collectibles, you can place that in front, explore Jerry's apartment, get a sense of how big this thing is. What I like about this example is I remember when they started selling on Shopify and all their product photos had a little coffee cup next to it or a pen or just some reference point for scale, because that must be a problem when all you see is just a picture of this miniature and you don't know if it's this big or you don't know if it's this big and AR can help there.

Walker: Maybe this is old school of me but I still like to try clothing on. But a lot of times before I'm making a purchase, I want to see the details. I want to see the detail of that fabric. I want to see the detail of the buttons or how the pockets fit or how they lay, and I think with augmented reality you could do that much more effectively with a pair of pants. You can zoom around and really get into the nuance, the stitching, the details. I think this side has a little red stitching. I really like that, so that's kind of important to me.

Beauchamp: There have been some awesome workarounds like Fashion Nova which released an AR app a few months ago where they let you do flatlays. A really popular Instagram fad of taking your outfit of the day, laying it in front of you like some sunglasses, a sweater, belt, shoes, or what have you, and it makes this really nice shareable post of what it is you're wearing.

They've created a virtual flatlay so you can browse through their app and say, “Oh, I like that top. I like this.” And, actually you could lay it down on your bed, you can lay it down on the floor and you could also even put out real items. So you could say, “Okay, here's a virtual sweater, but it looks real and here's a virtual belt and here's a virtual handbag, but does this go with my shoes?” You can actually just put your shoes there too, and then take a photo of it and no one would be the wiser that half of the things don't actually exist there in real life.

Walker: I think that's cool. I think being able to see how items interplay is really one of the things that we view as really powerful. Like how does that lamp look with that chair? How does the scale look? And, being able to do that with clothing, how does this shirt look with these pants? How does it look with my shoes and my belt? I think that's a really great technology even in its current iteration.

Beauchamp: Right. I'm just thinking of buying a tent and sometimes it's so hard to figure out how to do it. If I could just get it to animate in front of me.

Walker: I'm not sure I could still do it, but maybe.

Beauchamp: But, that'd be awesome, so that would be an example of AR happening after they purchase. An example I also really like is how can AR help before the product is even created. So earlier talks spoke about prototyping and that failing fast, trialing these prototypes and the process. You come up with sketches or whatnot, send it over to a manufacturer, they do something and send it back again. The feedback loop can be kind of slow and take a long time. With AR though, if you can get a 3D model of that concept, you could preview it as though it were there in front of you before you even sent it off anywhere to get it manufactured, prototypes or anything.

Walker: In my experience using it, as someone who uses it daily, I think what it could do is really help cut back some of those big problems that you're going to address right away, scale problems or finish problems or the joint doesn't look right there, that needs to be moved over here, and then just zip those files back and forth.

Beauchamp: Right. So you don't manufacture your own products, but I know we were talking about you wanting to get into that space and I think AR is this awesome way that you can start testing out concepts without even needing to worry about how you can get start getting these real prototypes made.

Walker: We have a great following of highly qualified interior designers and that's a big part of our business. So being able to send our interior designers an idea or a concept of a product and allowing them to see it in their space and provide feedback to us would be awesome and amazing.

Beauchamp: I like that you mentioned the marketing side too where just last week one of our merchants, they sell these really cool camera tripods, motorized camera tripods, and they were having this photo contest on Twitter and posted, “Take this AR model of our product and put it in a cool place.” People were putting it in their microwave—not the actual product—but taking these cool shots of their microwave. They were taking these cool shots of it almost like Godzilla over New York City because you can scale it up and then they'd place it outside. So, just kind of fun ways to market your product before it's been purchased.

Walker: It is an exciting app to use. It's a fun thing to do. You put that lamp down and you can play with it, it's really kind of fun.

Beauchamp: That's awesome. So can you please share the positive impact to various metrics that you've experienced as a result of introducing AR to your site?

Walker: I wish I could, I would love to follow up with that later. As I mentioned, it's only been a month and a lot of our products take a lot longer than one month for people to buy.

“I will say that the five products that we launched with are the top viewed products right now on the site and I think people are really enjoying engaging with those products. Once we can have a little bit more data to collect and analyze, I really intend to see that their numbers have gone up.”

Beauchamp: That's really awesome. Well, Ryan, thanks so much for joining me today. I can't wait to see more of your products use AR and see the impact that it has on your business.

Walker: Cool, thank you. I appreciate it

This article originally appeared in the Shopify Plus blog and has been published here with permission.

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