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How Augmented Reality (AR) Is Changing Ecommerce Shopping

how-augmented-reality-(ar)-is-changing-ecommerce-shopping

The world of augmented reality shopping may seem like futuristic sci-fi. But in reality, businesses are already using AR to sell products.

The AR market is still in its infancy, but it’s growing fast. Early adopters of AR have, in recent years, been gamers and those interested in the “metaverse.” But AR isn’t only for them.

Some 48% of respondents to a McKinsey&Company survey said they’re interested in using “metaverse” technology (i.e. AR and VR) to shop in the next five years. In turn, 38% of marketer respondents said they are using AR in 2022, up 15 percentage points from 2017’s 23%.

In this guide, we’ll go over what AR shopping is, details about the AR/VR market, AR shopping trends to watch out for in 2023, and the best AR shopping app currently available.

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Table of contents

What is AR shopping?

Augmented reality shopping allows customers to virtually try on and test products through an electronic device such as a smartphone or virtual reality headset.

AR can either help customers feel like they are in a brick-and-mortar store interacting with products or show them how products will look in their homes or, in the case of fashion, on their bodies.

As such, AR lends itself to marketer applications by allowing consumers to engage in pre-buying behaviors like virtually trying on clothing or makeup, or overlaying furniture into a living area to gauge its size and suitability with the rest of their home furnishings.

The AR/VR market

By the end of 2021, nearly two years into the pandemic, the US augmented, virtual, and mixed reality market was worth $28 billion and was projected to reach more than $250 billion by 2028, according to The Insight Partners, giving marketers and platforms good reason to invest in the technologies.

Companies like Meta and Google are trying to accelerate that trend by investing more in AR and VR tools—for example, Google recently acquired Raxium, a startup that specializes in smart glasses with new technologies that could greatly improve the prospects of Google’s previous (and current) Google Glass attempts.

Newer smartphone cameras have also made AR shopping more accessible as they continue to improve hardware and software, enabling AR functionality across various apps. Consumer-friendly try-on options, paired with better technology distribution, make AR an increasingly appealing technology for marketers.

7 AR shopping trends to look out for in 2023

In this section, we’ll provide an overview of six different trends to look out for in the AR shopping space in 2023, starting with the most popular method of using AR technology: social media apps and camera filters.

1. Social media apps and camera filters

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people naturally have spent more time online. As a result, brands have had to experiment and innovate to engage with them and encourage people to use their ecommerce and social commerce channels.

This trend is not going away anytime soon—75% of the global population and almost all smartphone users will be frequent AR users according to Deloitte, and the majority are discovering AR through social media apps.

Some of the proponent mobile apps of using AR for brands early on were Snapchat and Instagram—allowing brands to create AR filters for their products for customers to use. For example, in a 2021 campaign, Christian Dior used Snapchat and Instagram AR filters to encourage “virtual word of mouth”—which received over 1.3 million impressions.

To this day, Christian Dior is still active in the AR space on these platforms:

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If you’re interested in trying out this trend for yourself, here are a few tips on getting started with using social media for AR:

  1. For Snapchat, you can use SnapAR Lens Studio to create an AR lens from scratch, or use its templates for a quicker turnaround.
  2. If you use either Facebook or Instagram, you can use Meta Spark to build out AR filters for Facebook or Instagram Stories.
  3. Whichever platform you use, you’ll still need talent on your team that can handle creating the 3D models or art for your campaign to use in the AR environment, as it’s not an easy task anyone can do (it takes some technical skills and expertise).

With that said, social media isn’t the end-all of AR—businesses have implemented the technology outside of social media, which we’ll discuss in more trends below.

2. Virtual try-on

The most obvious use of AR for brands is product demonstration, and it shows. Research from Modern Retail suggests product demonstration via virtual try-on and real-world overlay has seen the biggest increase in AR usage between 2017 and 2022.

Virtual try-on is perhaps most applicable in the fashion and beauty verticals. Across generations, over half of survey respondents were interested in using AR for trying on new makeup or hair colors and trying on new clothes, shoes, or accessories (from 57% of the silent generation all the way to 92% of Gen Z).

An example of a brand using virtual try-on is Sephora, which is currently promoting its crossover (Sephora x Merve) by creating a lipstick try-on filter on Instagram:

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This is a new AR filter, so there isn’t any public data (in terms of use by Instagram users) available about it at the moment.

If you’re interested in creating virtual try-on experiences for your products, here are a few tips:

  1. Keep it simple. The more complex you try to make your AR, the more likely it is to be messy when customers try to use it—everyone has a different face and body, so no AR will be perfect (yet) at mapping 3D models to all customers.
  2. If you’re using social commerce (i.e., Instagram/Facebook Shops), you can implement AR virtual try-on in your shop as a feature when customers are scrolling through different products or product variations, removing friction in the buying journey.

Virtual try-on camera filters have an extra benefit for business—they can potentially decrease losses resulting from customer returns, since the customer has an idea of how the product will likely look on them.

3. Virtual showroom

Similar to the idea of virtual try-on is the virtual “showroom.” As mentioned previously, this is the AR technology that allows customers to virtually place items in the environment around them (such as a living room).

The main difference between virtual try-on and showroom is the customer flipping the camera around. Other than this distinction in the way customers use the hardware, there isn’t much difference in the technology involved—which is good news for business owners.

Research we conducted last year, for example, found merchants who add 3D content to their stores see a 94% conversion lift, on average—and since there isn’t much difference between try-on and showroom style AR, the opportunity to use it is open to many verticals.

An example of “showroom” style AR you might have already come across is shopping for furniture in-app on Amazon:

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When it comes to placing products in the environment using AR, here are some tips to follow:

  1. To create and publish an AR-enabled product listing on Amazon, you’ll need to use Amazon Sumerian—and AWS service that boasts how accessible the platform is for those who don’t have specialized knowledge on 3D modeling.
  2. Showroom-style AR is also different in how the user is likely to interact with it, i.e., they’re likely to move around with the camera, or point it at several places within their environment. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that the item can communicate the planes (surfaces) that mobile devices can detect to manage expectations of where the AR item can be placed.
  3. Consider using visual cues or text to instruct the user on how they can interact with the AR (i.e., how they can move the object around or change its orientation).
  4. Also consider the constraints of both the environment the user might be in and the device they’re using to apply AR—for example, the AR should be easy to use with one hand, and usable in a variety of environments.

Virtual showroom style filters/lenses are potentially the best application of AR for most businesses selling physical products—at least until better technology arrives.

4. Better AR hardware options

Innovations in mobile technology, such as better depth sensing hardware (LiDAR and ToF), don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon—as a result, each iteration of new phones becomes better equipped to handle AR features.

The predicted mobile AR market revenue growth over the next four years reflects these changes in technology—from $12.45 billion in 2021 to $36.26 billion in 2026.

But it’s not just smartphones getting AR attention. As mentioned earlier, with better technology becoming more widely available, companies such as Google (including Android), Microsoft, Lenovo, and Vuzix are getting busy building smart glasses. Some even announced plans during CES (Consumer Electronics Show) earlier this year.

One of those announcements was from TCL:

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Image source: TCL

AR-enabled smart glasses may see some improvement in development next year, but we don’t expect them to be widely available in the very near future. So for now, the focus remains on mobile AR technology.

The main tip for thinking about mobile AR (and its improving capabilities) is the potential to develop brand-owned applications (for example, using Apple’s ARKit) for customers to see your products with AR, similar to IKEA building the IKEA Place app.

5. AR mirrors for in-store shopping

Another interesting trend to watch out for in the retail space is investing in AR mirrors in-store.

There are two main methods of how AR mirrors work. The first is by using a digital screen with motion-sensor technology placed behind the mirror, then using AR to superimpose images onto the mirror in real time. The second method is by not using a real mirror at all, and instead using a digital display with cameras, similar to an extra-large smartphone.

While China currently leads the way in smart mirror usage, there is an appetite for this technology in the US.

Research from Snapchat suggests 21% of customers would go out of their way to visit a store with a smart mirror and 33% would use it in stores they already visit for trying on clothes. These figures decrease only slightly when it comes to trying on makeup or hair color (20% and 31%, respectively).

One major brand that has implemented smart mirror technology in-store is MAC Cosmetics:

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Image source: CNET.com

These mirrors can help shoppers when they’re in-store and either don’t want to try different makeup options or can’t because of newer COVID-19 policies.

If you want to consider using AR mirrors in your stores, it’s worth considering the hefty investment it would take to roll them out across multiple locations—from the cost of the displays themselves to developing the software that goes inside them.

However, a good tip here would be to conduct a trial run by installing one in a flagship store and interviewing customers who decide to use it. Based on the results, you can decide if the investment is worth it for your business.

6. Using AR to gamify in-store shopping

In the research previously mentioned by Modern Retail, all survey respondents said they mainly use AR for entertainment purposes. So what happens if a brand uses AR to make the in-store customer experience more entertaining?

With 22% of Snapchat research respondents suggesting they would be interested in using AR to make shopping more fun, it’s worth considering methods for this use case. With this in mind, some brands have taken to using AR to gamify in-store shopping—which, for UK brand Tesco, has built brand engagement, brand loyalty, and longer dwell times with products.

Tesco decided to team up with Engine Creative to build AR experiences in the Tesco Discover app. While it works to help customers learn more about scanned products, it also gamifies the experience by having customers scan products:

The gamification can only be unlocked by scanning the physical product which brings to life the Big Night In family quiz. The game includes scoring, trophies, forfeits and social sharing”

Engine Creative

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Image source: Engine Creative

The concept of AR in-store gamification might seem difficult, but here are a few tips that could help you get on this trend:

  1. Like the example from Tesco, tie your AR experiences to specific products in-store. This way, you don’t have to attempt to create extensive 3D model mapping that would take too much time and money to implement.
  2. Use a QR code to encourage shoppers to start the AR experience with their phone’s camera, and potentially keep the experience localized within specific geographic parameters in-store, instead of trying to cover the whole store.

The great aspect of this trend is that many younger customers will recognize the gamified AR concept from the popular mobile game Pokémon Go, and will intuitively know how to proceed after opening up the AR experience.

Best AR shopping app

We’re going to cheat here and suggest two AR apps as the better options for AR shopping currently available—Amazon and Shopify.

Amazon is one of the top online shopping marketplaces in the world (based on GMV, it sits behind Taobao and Tmall, at $390 billion). Therefore, consumers are familiar with and regularly shop on Amazon. As seen in the trend examples above, Amazon has a “see it in your room” feature available for larger home-based products such as furniture and TVs.

However, if you want to own your website and store (as opposed to selling through Amazon as a third-party seller), then Shopify can host your AR product media on your store.

With Shopify AR, you can use 3D assets and videos of your products to give your customers a better understanding of the size and function of an item—giving them more confidence in the product quality and suitability.

Introduce your customers to AR shopping today

Augmented reality might have seemed like science fiction a few years ago, but it’s no longer confined to books and movies—businesses are using AR today to help customers shop with more confidence while making the experience more fun and immersive.

The trends we’ve covered in this guide show no signs of slowing down either, which means now is a great time to move ahead of the competition by using AR technology in your online store.

To see how Shopify can help you place your products in augmented reality, check out the AR guide in our help center to get started.

AR shopping FAQ

Is AR the future of shopping?

It might take several more years for AR shopping to become mainstream, but research shows that the potential of AR is increasing, and customers are increasingly willing to try it.

What are some current augmented reality trends?

Some of the current AR trends include virtual try-on or “showrooms,” as well as stores installing AR mirrors, AR-based visual search, and even in-store AR sales finders.

How is AR used in shopping?

Customers primarily shop with augmented reality by trying on items such as clothes, makeup, and shoes, or virtually placing furniture/household items within the home to see how they look before buying. But AR can also help in-store with virtual changing rooms using AR mirrors and finding sales using a camera filter/app.

This originally appeared on Shopify Plus and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.

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