From 2D to 3D: Why Augmented Reality will fundamentally change the way your customers shop

By: Rupert Deans, CEO at Plattar

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

A picture tells a thousand words, and according to Gartner, 74% of people are most likely to engage with an eCommerce website that uses photos. What if pictures could be projected into the real world and brought to life in 3D? This is Augmented Reality (AR) where consumers can engage and interact in the real world.

So, what is AR and how is it different to Virtual Reality (VR)? Often the terms VR and AR get lost in translation but, it is important to understand the difference. VR is an entirely immersive technology that uses hardware to take us into a completely computer generated environment. AR, on the other hand, uses devices or wearables to add a digital layer to our surrounding environment, essentially creating an extension of the real world through computer enhancement.

With two exciting emerging technologies available to consumers, which way do businesses need to be looking to invest and grow? Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has made his support of AR over clear suggesting it would be the “larger of the two, probably by far.” Cook argues that it “gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things visually for both of us to see...maybe it is someone else here who's not here present but who can be made to appear to be present.” whereas VR “Virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool but probably has a lower commercial interest over time.”

Tim Cook has followed his word with Apple, this year launching ARKit (due to go live in October 2017). This is a very powerful tool to deliver Augmented Reality through iOS apps and devices. Pre-launch, it has set alive the internet with creators all around the world making their own digital layers. Come October, brands will be demanding AR from their agencies.

As Augmented Reality is becoming more widely understood it has become a key area for business success by many industries and as such businesses are investing accordingly. Market and Markets predicts “that by 2020 the AR industry will be producing $117.80 Billion in revenue”. Not only will the consumers of this technology be investing, but software giants such as Microsoft and Apple are deep in development on their own AR specific hardware to bring to the market. Microsoft released the developer version of its HoloLens headset in early 2016. It has since been used for numerous experimental projects, recently being used at London Fashion Week to see the full 2017 collection come to life in front of the audience in the form of holograms.

Given the investment interest and emerging tools for AR experience, how can eCommerce benefit from AR today? Like all new technologies, it is important to understand the problems that it can solve and the benefits it can provide to end users. AR has a business benefits list a mile long, and by using 3D and interactive components, the applications are soon to be limitless. One of the primary benefits being harnessed by the retail industry is the ability to enable consumers to make more informed decisions about their purchases. This has been shown to reduce product returns as well as engage them in new products before their release. In the early stages of the technology, it also can provide an engaging point of difference for marketing. But the technology is moving fast with Gartner expecting 100 million people shopping with AR by 2020.

A full view of the product

AR can merge a variety of digital product collateral such as images, models, videos and sound and represent them in new ways for a consumer to engage with in the real world. There is already a clear trend with 81% of consumers making their purchasing decisions via the web (Gartner), AR helps to provide even more information to help with decision-making. By producing a digital 3D replica in a real life environment, customers are able to view products from all angles in the context of their own environment. Eventually creating 3D assets for this purpose will be considered a standard process, like taking product photographs for eCommerce.

Ikea has been a pioneer in AR for product visualisation, using it to transform their popular catalogue by projecting their products into the homes of their customers by letting users place the physical catalogue in a spot where the customer intends to put their furniture. Then using the Ikea AR app their choice of furniture is projected through the app and in the future using Apple’s ARKit.

We are already seeing businesses of all sizes adopting the technology and securing sales through it. Escape to Paradise’s deal with a major hotel chain is Plattar’s most recent example of the impact augmentation can have in the real world. In the first month, Escape to Paradise has seen a 300% ROI through its branded Plattar AR application.

Sacha Alagich, Founder at Escape to Paradise, says, "Our customers were completely amazed. The hotels could actually see straight away how the cushions from our range go with their colour themes, making it much easier for them to plan the different products they will need to order for a refurbished project. They were much more confident in their decision and made an order with us on the day.”

Reducing Returns through augmentation

Fashion Designer Rebecca Minkoff and co-founder Uri Minkoff partnered with a startup to help consumers connect with their brand. By uploading a photo of yourself and then picking out clothing items, the AR App “Zeekit” will then overlay those items on your body using the size you choose.

It particularly helps minimise product returns, with Minikoff believing that Zeekit could help reduce headaches by more accurately predicting which size dress or pants look best on your body. According to Minikoff, the “industry standard for returns is 20 to 40 percent”, leaving a lot of room for improvement.

For Ikea, the issue of returns is even more important. When you are armed with precise measurements, trying to imagine exactly how that beautiful new sofa will look in your living room is not an easy task. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that they have found that 14 percent of their customers end up taking home furniture which turns out to be the wrong size for its intended location. Thanks to AR this number of returns is being reduced.

Creating an Edge over Competitors

Jerome’s, a furniture company in San Diego, California, has started using AR to take an advantage over its competitors launching an AR program with “See it in your home” tabs on particular product pages. Since its inclusion in early 2016, it has seen a 65% conversion to eCommerce sales for consumers using the app vs. those who do not. It also increased the time consumers spent on the website, nearly quadrupling to 15 minutes for AR app users vs. four minutes for other Web visitors.

Future Technologies

As 3D models and AR become the norm for the product in commerce, there is a strong interest in what is next in this space to keep ahead of the competition.

One technology is an AR sensor such as the “Structure Sensor” that is a compact 3D sensor designed to attach to a tablet. It can capture a 3D model of a living room or any other object. Think of the way we share 3D spaces with someone today, but instead of photos or videos, it quickly creates a 3D model. It allows products to be precisely positioned and viewed in real world environments while also simplifying the creation of high-fidelity 3D models with high-resolution.

The bottom line

Augmented Reality is perceived as the technology for the future and is making its way in the marketplace. Some of the top brands have already embraced the new technology and are using AR to provide exciting customer experiences.

Despite all of the new technology and interest surrounding AR, it is important not to rush the development of an augmented reality app whose sole merit is the fact that it sports AR technology. Quality implementation of AR must come first, it should serve to enhance existing ideas, not to stand alone by itself. AR is a way to enhance the product experience.

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