Estimated read: 7-8 min.

Augmented Reality in eCommerce: How Does It Work?

January 24th, 2023 by ShapeDiver

Augmented reality is being adopted by eCommerce companies to improve the customer experience. This article explains important aspects of the technology and how companies can benefit from its implementation.

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Augmented reality (AR) is a hot trend in the world of eCommerce, and it has been for several years now. With the upsurge of online retail fueled by the pandemic, customers are expecting more and more from shopping platforms in terms of user experience, and AR could be the answer many merchants are looking for.

This article will explain this emerging technology, the benefits for virtual shoppers and merchants, how to create the right 3D assets for AR viewing, and discuss implementation strategies for companies on their way to a digital business transformation.

How AR is changing eCommerce

Augmented Reality is definitely no momentary trend. Together with Industry 4.0, AR is part of a complete digital transformation and automation of the business-to-consumer industry. With customers demanding more enjoyable and intuitive user experiences from online stores, retail will be a pioneering field to sprout the first generation of AR applications.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the last 3 years, about 15% of all retail sales occurred online. That is three times the amount sold over the virtual counter just a decade ago. Even more so, eCommerce revenue is expected to nearly double in the coming five years.

With brick-and-mortar stores increasingly being replaced by flat-screen interactivity, some of the value of an authentic, in-person shopping experience gets lost in translation. Augmented Reality catches some of these issues and adds unique features of its own.

Not only do customers enjoy a realistic product preview in their surroundings, but the new medium can also augment the experience with additional information that can adapt to specific situations. Furthermore, for merchants selling customizable products, it can help their customers understand different physical variations, alternative colors, materials, and finishes.

Overall, it has the potential to make shopping more engaging and interactive, which can lead to higher conversion rates and reduced product returns.

How AR improves the shopping experience

Online retail puts millions of products at the fingertips of about 6.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. Operating on mostly tiny displays, people have to judge whether any given purchase will fit into their lives. That's a tall order.

Particularly for clothing, vehicles, and home interiors, it can be difficult to picture how products you see on your mobile screen will look in real life. This is where AR comes in.

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Here are some of the advantages AR could offer to different industries:

Furniture and other interior design products can be viewed in the same room the customer intends to place them. This way, they can evaluate scale, materials, and color-match to the surroundings. They can even determine the piece’s best placement in the space. And being able to rotate the object in 3D will clarify how certain details and features will look.

Jewelry and other luxury items like wristwatches, eyeglasses, and makeup can appear as if customers are already wearing them. This is much more useful for the consumer than viewing the product on a sterile white background.

Car modifications can be previewed on the customer’s car in real time! A full-scale walkaround preview is perfect for seeing how a new rims, decals, side skirts, or paint job would look.

Toys can be previewed to allow children to experience the product and some of its interactivity. The AR experience can even allow characters to come to life.

What’s the difference between AR and VR?

While they may seem similar on many fronts, the two technologies are notably different.

VR (Virtual Reality) completely immerses the user in a simulated environment. It transports the person to a different place, which is great for video games, simulators, virtual traveling, work meetings, and fitness and meditation sessions.

AR (Augmented Reality), on the other hand, does not take people to an artificial world but overlays three-dimensional objects into reality. People can move around while interacting with the dual world by staying aware of their actual setting.

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VR focuses purely on a virtual experience, but with AR, things can go both ways. It can use the real world to create an improved virtual experience, like Pokémon Go, Jurassic World Alive, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Minecraft Earth. However, AR can also elevate the real-world experience, for example, with infographics or price tags next to real objects and even real-time text translations.

While VR and AR may seem comparable initially, the two technologies accomplish distinctly different purposes using similar means.

Another important difference is that while VR requires a headset, AR can be experienced on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Those willing to invest more can be rewarded: AR glasses fully merge the virtual with the physical world while enabling hands-free viewing.

Many modern mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, come equipped with a native AR viewer. This means that billions of people have immediate access to AR content without purchasing additional hardware or downloading separate apps. As a result, merchants can assume that customers browsing their store on a mobile device can view AR content.

Paving The Infrastructure

Global audiences are responding massively to these immersive technologies, and millions of online customers already own a headset specific for viewing AR/VR content.

While VR is booming in the form of video games, YouTube content, and 3D content creation, AR is expected to soon catch up, with many brands offering an augmented feature.

In 2023 there will be an estimated 30 million AR headset sales. These include Meta Quest Pro, Microsoft HoloLens 2, Vuzix Blade, Magic Leap 2, and ByteDance’s Pico 4.

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Meta’s Reality Labs, the successor of Oculus, reported $2.3 billion in total revenue in 2021. Other Big Tech players, like Google and Apple, are working hard to catch up and launch their AR hardware platforms. Apple’s AR/VR headset is expected to go into production sometime in 2023.

It is safe to say that in the near future, AR will have assumed a permanent role as the preferred medium for interactive experiences for tens of millions worldwide.

Creating AR-Ready Assets

The most popular file formats for AR content are 3D models in .fbx, .obj, and .gltf formats. These formats are widely supported by most 3D modeling software, making them easy to export and use in AR applications.

Additionally, there are many online platforms and 3D modeling tools available that can be used to source or generate these types of files. These tools allow developers, artists, and designers to create high-quality 3D models which can be used in different AR applications. Here are some suggestions:

1. Using Online Repositories

Repositories like CGTrader, Cults3D, MyMiniFactory, Thingiverse, Sketchfab, and TurboSquid contain thousands of static 3D models that can be purchased or downloaded for free. These files can then be repurposed for AR viewing.

2. Scanning Real-World Objects

If a merchant simply wants to scan an existing product, smartphone apps like ARitize360, Qlone, RealityCapture, and Polycam can reconstruct an object based on a photoset taken by rotating around the object as if it’s on a carousel.

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3. Using 3D Modeling Software

Fusion 360, Tinkercad, ZBrush, Blender, Maya, Sculptris, and Unity offer a blank canvas for creating 3D models using professional tools for simple geometric shapes.

There are even specific tools to create simple models specially suited for viewing on augmented reality platforms, such as Apple Reality Composer.

4. Using Parametric Modeling Software

Instead of creating static geometry based on a fixed set of dimensions, parametric 3D assets allow the user to tweak the parameters while the 3D model updates in real time.

For merchants looking to offer customizable products, parametric design is the go-to solution. And Grasshopper is a modeling tool part of Rhinoceros 3D that stands in a category of its own. With it, objects aren’t modeled manually but defined by a set of parameters, typically in the form of sliders, toggles, and other input elements. Using the ShapeDiver plugin for Grasshopper, merchants can easily output glTF files, which can be repurposed for AR.

Furthermore, the ShapeDiver platform allows merchants to host their parametric models online and expose the key parameters to the user. The model can then be altered on the fly with a simple online user interface. ShapeDiver includes an AR function that can be used directly on the platform or in merchant stores, including Shopify.

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How to add AR to your marketing strategy

Before going the AR route, it’s important to decide on a specific implementation strategy for fitting this newfound tool into your marketing arsenal. AR can be much more than an additional feature, so consider what value it will bring to the customer, how it can tell the right brand story, and how to establish enough visibility and attention to create buzz.

Instead of simply adding an AR button to products in your store that have a 3D model available, you can bring extra attention to this technology by creating a separate website that revolves around a social media campaign.

Another option is to create a VIP backroom in the store with an exclusive collection of products that gives the AR feature maximum impact. Instead of a simple 3D model, consider doing an interactive animation or an exploded view and add unique customization options or infographics.

Mimicry of purchase intention is a well-known phenomenon in marketing, especially among teenagers and young adults. So in some cases, it will be a sensible idea to create a digital twin not just of the product but also of a 3D avatar that’s using it.

With Grasshopper and ShapeDiver, it’s possible to create online configurators that allow customers to customize an object in 3D and visualize it onsite in AR. Nomade Editions from Germany and Saw & Sew from the UK are already leveraging these technologies. It’s also possible to import vector art, so logos and emblems can easily be embossed or debossed into the model, just like Gemme Jewelry from Germany is doing.

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Apart from try-before-you-buy applications and after-sales support, AR can be utilized in various other ways to guide the sales process, improve customer satisfaction, and drive revenue.

Takeaways

Augmented reality is a technology being adopted by eCommerce companies to improve customer user experience. With the rise of online retail sales, customers expect more from shopping platforms regarding user experience, and AR could be the solution.

The technology can make shopping more engaging and interactive, leading to higher conversion rates and reduced product returns.

AR allows customers to view products in realistic settings, such as furniture in the room they intend to place it in, jewelry and luxury items as if they are already wearing them, car modifications on the customer's car in real-time, and toys that can come to life.

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Over the course of the next few years, many experts expect AR to be a leading factor in transforming the online shopping experience. As retailers implement their AR-based shopping experience, it is time to leap ahead of the competition and introduce a 3D & AR product configurator.


Don't forget to check out Our Clients page for some examples of companies using the ShapeDiver platform to build incredible 3D and AR online applications.

Are you interested in creating an online configurator with Augmented Reality capabilities? Email us at contact@shapediver.com and our team of experts will guide you through the steps required to set up your own 3D and AR configurator.