You may think that augmented reality is a fun gimmick and you may be right. However, if you think that this fact narrows the use of AR down to games and entertainment – you’re way off the mark.
Over the past few years, AR has introduced its possibilities to multiple industries, with retail being one of them. After experiencing AR retail apps from IKEA, Nike, and Audi, about 70% of consumers admit they expect other companies to use AR in their sales. About 40% of consumers are even ready to pay more to the retailers that offer augmented reality features.
In this article, we tackle online retail in particular. You’ll also find the steps you should take to successfully make an AR app a part of your e-commerce business strategy.
Advantages of Augmented Reality for E-Commerce
Before we talk about choosing functionality of an augmented reality e-commerce app and its implementation, let’s briefly look at the advantages of AR for retail in general. By incorporating an augmented reality app into your business, you can:
- Increase your sales;
- Reduce support and maintenance efforts;
- Promote your services and gain new customers;
- Enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Naturally, these advantages are relevant for any retail business. Yet, to give the examples of augmented reality features, we’re going to delve into e-commerce specifics.
Choose the Features to Match Your Goal
You will definitely achieve better customer satisfaction with any AR app. However, the other three advantages are tightly connected to certain types of AR. Depending on the advantage you want to pursue, the functionality of your augmented reality retail app will differ.
The advice is to focus on one improvement your e-commerce business currently needs most and go with the related functionality. Further on, you’ll be able to expand the app and introduce new features to unlock other advantages.
1. Increasing Sales – Virtual Catalog
One of the weakest points of e-commerce is the inability to let customers view and estimate the qualities of products up close. High-resolution images and video reviews help companies to showcase their items online, but it’s often not enough. Even if it means paying more, many people still prefer to purchase things such as clothing, furniture, and large electronic devices in brick-and-mortar stores.
By introducing a catalog with augmented reality 3D models, you allow your customers to use a mobile phone as a lens for inspecting a product as if it were actually near them in real life. The app virtually adds an item – be it an item of clothing, a furniture piece, a car, or literally anything else – to the real surroundings captured by the camera. An app also makes it easy to switch between the item colors you offer and compare the variants. This, as well as the possibility to place a large item – a furniture piece or a car – in a customer’s room or a garage at a 1:1 scale, is a definite advantage over viewing a real item in a brick-and-mortar store.
2. After-Sales Support – Interactive Manuals
It’s only natural to wish your customer support agents were always busy processing the latest online orders and kept the flow of new customers going. However, a lot of their time is often spent on communication with recent customers who need help with installing or setting up a purchased product.
You can reduce the number of follow-up questions to a minimum by providing your customers with an AR mobile app that contains interactive manuals and guides them through the installation or maintenance processes of the items you sell. An AR app like this can recognize your products once they are in the focus of the device camera and augment the image on the screen with instructions, such as textual tips and pointing arrows.
3. Promotion – AR Virtual Store
Gaining customers’ attention is a tough job now that people are used to most of the marketing and advertising techniques. However, AR hasn’t lost its gimmick appeal yet and works as an effective method that definitely stands out and strikes a person’s eye.
With an augmented reality virtual store app you can make special promo events. By offering gamification elements similar to the ones in the Pokémon game, you bring your business forward and gain new customers. After sending a specified location of a virtual store to your customers, you can incentivize them with discounted or exclusive items thus ensuring their engagement.
Why a Web App Isn’t an Option
Once you’ve decided on your core functionality, you might question yourself: why create a mobile app rather than a web app? Not only can a web app be a part of your existing e-commerce store, but it is also a lot easier to optimize for search engines and, therefore, easier to promote. It can be used across all mobile devices, regardless of the platform, and it is cheaper to develop than native iOS and Android apps.
However, the things are different with augmented reality apps. AR functionality is all about the precision of scene and object recognition algorithms. These algorithms can make accurate calculations and estimations only when an AR app is installed on a mobile device and, therefore, can directly communicate with the camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, and GPS.
Still, you can save on the implementation costs and reach out to both iOS and Android users at once by opting in for cross-platform development. The Xamarin framework, for instance, can help to convey the native look and feel of an app while making it available for multiple platforms.
Integration with Your Existing Solutions
If you don’t have a mobile app for your e-commerce website yet, you can use this chance to develop and introduce it. Along with implementing AR features, you can make the app lead your customer through the whole purchasing process from choosing an item to checking out.
For the sake of your and your clients’ convenience, the app can be fully integrated with the existing database of your e-commerce website. In other words, the app and your web store will have the user data, product descriptions and item statuses continuously synchronized, while static product images on your web store will be replaced with AR models in the app.
E-Commerce Mobile App
In case you already have a mobile e-commerce app, you have two options of integrating AR functionality with it.
First is to make augmented reality an update to your current app, expanding the original features. Since not all devices support AR, the update will only be installed on compatible gadgets, letting the owners of incompatible ones use a non-AR version of the app. To cater to all your users, regardless of the devices they use, you’ll be maintaining both versions of your app from then on.
Alternatively, you can create an additional augmented reality retail app that directly communicates with your main e-commerce app but has to be installed separately. For instance, if you choose to develop an AR product catalog, it will enable choosing an item while viewing AR models and then redirect a user to the checkout in your main e-commerce app.
Augmented reality can truly revamp your e-commerce business and take it to the next level. Depending on the functionality, you can gain satisfied and loyal customers, reduce support efforts, or raise awareness about your presence on the e-market. Still, opting in for AR doesn’t mean abandoning your existing e-commerce solutions. Whether you already have a mobile e-commerce app or not, you can smoothly introduce an AR app and make it an integral part of your current business strategy.
About the Author
Anastasia Yaskevich is an Enterprise Mobility Researcher at ScienceSoft, an IT consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. She started out in IT with research on cloud computing and UI/UX in 2013, and now writes on the latest trends in augmented reality and mobile app development. Her knowledge and understanding of various industries allows her to cover the topics from both technology and business perspectives.