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GUEST COMMENT How retailers should be using AR

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The sudden shutdown of retail stores this spring created an unprecedented disruption in how retailers and brands operate. Stay-at-home orders forced many non-essential businesses to depend exclusively on online sales.

According to Adobe Analytics, US ecommerce saw a 49% increase in daily sales in April. That’s huge, considering that ecommerce normally grows at a rate of 15% per year.

Nonessential retailers that hope to stay in business have little choice but to offer digital alternatives to in-store shopping. Those that hope to recover the sales lost to in-store traffic will have to find ways to increase user engagement, minimize returns, and increase conversions in the digital space. 

Augmented reality can do all three. And thanks to software available today, adding AR to an ecommerce site is more accessible to retailers of all sizes than it’s ever been.

Why augmented reality?

Augmented reality helps create an online experience that mimics what happens in a physical store. Because of that, it offers key benefits to ecommerce sellers:

So how exactly can retailers weave AR functionality into their ecommerce sites? Consider these three applications from sellers already seeing success.

1: Power at-home try-ons

Ecommerce has been around for a while, but many shoppers still prefer in-store shopping for items like clothing, makeup, and accessories. With that option off the table, AR can offer a digital substitute.

Warby Parker, for example, offers an AR-powered way customers can try on glasses frames from home. The Wanna Kicks app lets shoppers try on sneakers via AR.

This can be an effective use of AR for any brand selling something customers would normally try on in stores.

2: Show customers larger items in context

Another corner of retail where in-store shopping remains popular is furniture. Here, too, AR can make for rich online experiences, as evidenced by the IKEA Place app. 

Built with Apple’s ARKit, the app takes data from camera sensors to map out a digital version of a room and place objects within it with 98% accuracy. Not only can customers save a trip to the store, but they also no longer need to worry about the hassle of measuring their space or carrying around fabric swatches.

3: Add post-purchase value to products 

AR applications aren’t limited to the purchasing funnel. They can also add value to your products post-purchase – especially compelling during a time when customers are spending more time in their homes, interacting with things they’ve already bought.

One example comes from Treasury Wine Estates, which created “Living Wine Labels.” These AR-powered interactive labels show consumers the history of the vineyard the wine came from or provide tasting notes that let customers have a kind of expert-guided tasting experience from the comfort of home.

Similarly, Lego and Bic offer games that let users interact with their creations by viewing them in AR settings.

Bring your products to life, faster AR can boost ecommerce conversions by bringing products to life even outside the context of a physical store. Thanks to new software, generating the AR assets necessary to create those experiences is now more accessible than ever.

Threekit, for example, recently launched a configurable AR feature that lets shoppers visualize millions of product variations in real time, from the comfort of their homes. 

Tapping into the power of AR today will help ecommerce brands not only serve their customers during our “new normal,” it will also position them for whatever comes next. At-home shopping isn’t likely to go away any time soon: 24% of consumers said they wouldn’t feel comfortable shopping in a mall for more than six months, regardless of whether stay-at-home orders are lifted.

Plus, there’s the case for convenience: with workable solutions for shopping from home more, many shoppers will pick that option even if they could return to stores. The new ways people are experiencing, learning about, and purchasing products today will have a lasting impact on what they expect from businesses in the future.

Marc Uible is VP of marketing at Threekit

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