augmented  reality rendering
PHOTO: Patrick Schneider

Augmented reality (AR) has been making inroads in the world of ecommerce over the last few years, but the rate of adoption is picking up. Companies are counting on augmented reality to help with online sales at a time when consumers can't view items in person.

“The real estate industry has been on the forefront of using augmented reality, specifically through tech like Matterport, 3-D cameras and augmented visual content for home showings and audits,” said Shane Dutka, founder and general manager of ReviewHomeWarranties. “Augmented reality allows agents to showcase 3-D home maps and tours online, attracting prospective buyers after a quick internet search versus actually having to schedule an on-site visit.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted real estate to dig further into using augmented reality for virtual showings like these, with stay-at-home orders preventing home shoppers from physically visiting the sites that have caught their eye, Dutka added. Some agencies and brokers expect demand for virtual tours using AR technology to increase even as stay-at-home orders lift, with consumers still playing it cautious. Research by Apartments.com and Redfin respectively, reveal listings with AR technology walkthroughs see 49% more leads and sell on average 10 days faster and close $50,100 higher than comparable homes in the same market. All thanks to the 3-D augmented reality-based camera technology, according to Dutka.

How Retailers Are Augmenting Sales

With COVID-19, we've seen a rush of inquiries about transforming retail shopping environments into augmented and virtual experiences that shoppers step into in their own home. We've seen this both from a B2B and B2C perspective, said Ryan Davies, digital executive with Creative Engine.

There are several examples:

An Augmented Makeover

L’Oreal acquired the AR/VR company ModiFace in 2018. ModiFace apps allow people to “try on” make-up online. They do so by pointing their smartphone camera at themselves, said Nir Kshetri, professor at the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

L’Oréal teamed up with China’s multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app, WeChat to launch its 3-D AR make-up try-on facility for WeChat mini program, which provides advanced features such as ecommerce, task management and coupons to users, Kshetri added. Ecommerce now accounts for 40% of L’Oreal’s Chinese sales compared with only 2% in 2012. The L’Oreal-owned Giorgio Armani make-up brand was the first luxury line to use ModiFace. L’Oreal found that when the AR feature on a website or app, customers’ engagement time doubled and conversion rates tripled.

Chinese ecommerce companies have invested in AR to enhance online shopping experiences, Kshetri said. JD.com’s AR beauty mirror helps customers try lipstick and other makeup items without actually applying them. For instance, the mirror gives an idea of what different shades of lipstick would look like.

Related Article: Why Augmented Reality Will Be Your Next Customer Channel

Cutting Down on Furniture Returns

One of the trickiest areas to navigate in retail is that of items being returned. UK retailer Argos turned to augmented reality to reduce the 30% return rate for online orders. The app enabled users to place furniture items like sofas in their own home to see how they would look and fit. With COVID-19 this approach is now even more valuable.

Diving Into the Nitty Gritty Car Details

Rather than just a gimmick "here's what this car looks like on my drive" approach, AR also serves much more of a functional purpose, Davies said. When we build a product-driven AR experience we use things like hotspots to highlight more information. We previously worked with Delphi, to create an “x-ray car” AR experience. Visitors were able to interact with a Honda Civic car and delve into the different engine parts and specifications.

If the Shoe Fits ...

Many companies have integrated augmented reality into their in-store experiences, said Samantha Moss, editor and content ambassador at Romantific. Lacoste allows you to try on shoes virtually, which is a big hit with the younger generation. Timberland has also incorporated augmented reality into its system by providing its customers with a large screen where they can try on different products virtually before entering the store.

Related Article: How 5G Will Impact Augmented and Virtual Reality Use

A 3-D Virtual Fitting Room

JD.com is introducing a 3-D virtual fitting room to try on clothes. In digital mirrors or showrooms, customers tap on the touch screen display to see the effects of different make-up or clothes on themselves Kshetri said.

Augmented Reality Challenges Remain

However, there are still challenges with AR, Moss cautioned. "It can be used in scams, and lack of resources where developers can manipulate how the system works and can be used for their own agenda."

Scot J. Chrisman, CEO at The Media House, added two other AR challenges: unsatisfying experiences and public acceptance.

“You have got to use top of the line applications to showcase your products and service using augmented reality,” Chrisman said. “The customer’s experience must be above average and they must experience the look and feel of your brand in a realistic manner.” He added that it's only now that people are beginning to accept and adapt to the idea of shopping through augmented realities. Companies need to come up with innovative ideas that can catch the attention of our customers.