When Pokémon Go hit select countries in July 2016, it was the first time many people had ever seen AR, or augmented reality, in action. People who didn't normally play video games were trying out this one, just to see how animated creatures could "come to life" through their smartphone camera viewscreen.
Since then, there have been only a few applications to use AR and reach such a saturation in our culture, but the technology behind AR has been quietly maturing, so much so that within the next few years you can expect to see an explosion of common AR uses infiltrating and improving, our daily lives.
Think of the mechanics that can look at your car engine through a smartphone and see detailed schematics overlaying the actual machinery. Or imagine your ability to look at a new appliance using AR and see explanations for what each button does instantly appear. No need for manuals anymore!
Of course, AR hasn't left e-commerce untouched, either.
In fact, AR opens a whole new world of opportunity for online stores to do things brick-and-mortar establishments could only dream of.
If you own or run an e-commerce website, can you include AR into your marketing efforts? With the ubiquity of smartphones, the average person has the technology in their pocket to use AR when shopping online. And, as the technology continues to develop and advance, there are more, and cheaper, options to implement AR than ever before.
So what benefits can you expect if you add AR to your marketing arsenal? Is this technology just another toy, best fit for games like Pokémon Go? Or can AR actually leave an impact on potential customers, motivating them to make a purchase on your online store?
Let's look at 5 benefits augmented reality can bring to your e-commerce business. You'll notice that some of these benefits are time-sensitive, meaning that, if you wait for AR to flood the market, you'll miss out on some of the greatest opportunities for profit!
Benefit #1: Customers can Try Before They Buy
We've been able to buy cars online for years now. And yet, there are still multiple car dealerships in every town in the United States. The same is true of clothing, jewelry, books, and just about anything else.
Why do so many people prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar store when they could just as easily buy online?
Because they want to try before they buy.
People want to sit in a car before signing on the dotted line. They want to experience how a suit or sweater feels before making a purchase. They want to see how that ring looks on their finger, not someone else's, before they pay out the hundreds-of-dollars price.
AR takes away a great deal of the advantage physical stores have over e-commerce. Now, with augmented reality applications, customers can see a product in detail before adding it to their cart.
IKEA has taken this idea to heart. Their AR app, IKEA Place, allows you to see how their furniture looks in your home before you chose to buy it. The app takes in the image of your room and places a 3D model of the furniture in that space, all through the screen of your smartphone or tablet, allowing you to see if the item will fit and work well in the room.
Amazon's app, Amazon AR View, is doing something similar, also with furniture, although they plan to expand their AR features to include jewelry and other products.
As the technology behind augmented reality advances, the 3D models these kinds of apps will be able to set in reality will only become more realistic.
Imagine getting to see in real-time how makeup will look on your skin, using your front-facing camera. Could a similar application be used for buying glasses, sunglasses, hats, T-shirts, sneakers, or, really, any other product?
Customers that get to try products before buying them will be less likely to return the item later because they'll be more sure of their purchase in the first place. That means fewer returns, less money lost, and happier customers leaving better reviews on your online store!
Benefit #2: AR Boosts Your Brand
Because AR is still new and hasn't yet saturated our culture, you'll stand out as a company if you apply augmented reality features to your e-commerce stores.
Think about it this way: When you go to a fancy, 5-star restaurant, one of those places where every plate costs more than the entire McDonald’s menu put together, twice over, what kind of furniture and decorations do you expect?
No matter how good the food is, for the prices you're paying, you'd expect every aspect of that store to be as swanky and pristine as humanly possible.
That's because a restaurant of that stature can only get away with those prices because they’re selling you the entire package: the environment, the service, the bathroom attendant, etc.
It's about brand. That restaurant is a brand. It has a reputation to uphold, and people who go there expect to be elevated in social stature just by being associated with that brand.
In the same way, your e-commerce business has a specific brand, a reputation, a stature. Or, even if the online store is new and without a reputation, you'll want to build a marketing scheme to start boosting your brand as soon as possible.
That means that every aspect of your online store including your web design, your logo, your product images--everything--must be on par with the brand you're trying to build.
AR can help you build that brand. Including augmented reality features in your e-commerce business makes you seem fresh, advanced, and smart. If you're a fashion brand, aren’t those adjectives you'd kill to have associated with your company? What about interior design brands, high-end watch brands, or online modern art galleries? Could AR help those brands, as well? Absolutely!
Benefit #3: AR Shows You Care About the Customer
Continuing our thoughts about brand, adopting AR technologies while it is still early has another huge advantage regarding your reputation with your customers.
Have you ever bought a product online, gotten your package delivered to your doorstep, opened up the box, then to find that the seller has included a hand-written thank-you note with your order?
That little, personal touch says volumes about you as a company, doesn't it? It says you care about what you do. You love your product, and you love the people that buy from you.
Can AR do something similar?
Imagine, on your e-commerce site, you are showing these amazing images and videos of your product. Then, a banner or header invites the customer to see the product in greater detail, using AR.
"We love our product, in all its detailed glory," you tell the customer, "and we want you to experience it for yourself. We know you'll love it, too."
What will the customer think? Even if they don't go for their phones to use the AR feature, they will see your brand as more thoughtful.
Oh, look at what Company X did. They really want me to have the best experience possible. How cool.
You'll instantly stand out as an e-commerce brand above the rest, because you're using technology that isn't already everywhere. You're ahead of the curve. You've taken that extra step, just for the customer, and they'll remember and appreciate that.
Benefit #4: AR Makes Products Seem More Premium (and Worth More Money)
I know you've heard the expression "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush," right? How can that apply to AR and e-commerce?
Studies show that items viewed in AR are seen as more valuable and worth a higher price tag. AR allows you to put your "bird" in your customer's hand.
According to research done by Daymon, 40% of shoppers said they would be willing to pay more for a product they can view using AR.
Now, take a moment and let that sink in.
Using AR features in your online store can make people willing to pay more money FOR THE SAME PRODUCTS. Isn't that reason enough to adopt AR?
Yes, augmented reality can literally mean more money!
In that same study, 72% of people said they purchased something they weren't planning on buying after an AR experience.
Yes, your products can seem more desirable, and more premium, just because they can be viewed through AR.
Let's say you are selling a particular product that you really care about. The problem is the product isn't very photogenic, meaning it just doesn't look good on the screen. Will that affect your bottom line? Absolutely!
Now, let's imagine that AR makes that same product seem more premium. It's best features can finally shine, and your customers can see that, too. Suddenly, people are buying more of your product, and willing to pay more, than before.
That product you truly believe in gets a fair chance to succeed because AR helps shine a more flattering light on it.
Benefit #5: AR Makes Your Products More Memorable
The sad truth of e-commerce, or all commerce, really, is that not everyone that visits your store will buy something.
Website visitors come and go. They browse for a minute, then they bounce. Perhaps they just wanted to see what the product was all about. Or maybe they don't have the budget to buy something right now.
You can work with a web designer to optimize every pixel of your website. And you can work with a content marketer to polish every word on the landing page to draw people in. But no amount of optimizing will make a webpage bounce-proof.
Of course, you'd better be using retargeting functions to advertise to those bounced visitors later on, perhaps through Facebook's amazing system (the best out there, for the time being), or Google's adwords system, showing targeted pre-roll on YouTube videos, for example.
But is there something else you can do to eventually reel those potential customers back in for a sale?
According to one study, AR activates more of the visual memory portion of the brain than viewing images, watching video, or even experiencing something in VR. What does this mean?
When more of your brain is active, especially the visual parts of your brain, you'll be more likely to remember what you saw later on.
That means your product, if viewed through AR, will be more memorable.
So visitors may come and go. They may choose to experience your products through AR before bouncing. If so, they'll have that memory with them, crystal clear, for a long time. That memory will, of course, make retargeting ads more effective later on.
In fact, that same study, from above, showed that AR also creates a "surprise" response from the brain. That pleasant surprise feeling will stay with the customer for a long time.
Yes, augmented reality can not only help seal the deal on the first visit, but it can also help reel in those non-purchasing visitors over time by making your products more surprising and memorable!
The Time is Now
Augmented reality is here to stay. As smartphones become more advanced, and as smart wearables become more and more accepted (think Apple watch), AR technology will only become more and more mainstream.
But AR isn't mainstream yet. It hasn't saturated the market yet. It's still new and exciting and surprising.
Why is now the best time to start implementing augmented reality into your e-commerce business?
Because your brand will stand out as cutting edge and premium. You'll be seen as the company that cares more about its products and customers.
And your products will seem more premium and memorable, too.
All in all, implementing AR now will show your company if forward-thinking. The bulk of the benefits discussed in this article will fade as AR becomes more widely used, so don't miss that opportunity.
And, as AR technology grows and expands, new benefits will surface. As they do, you'll automatically enjoy such benefits because you'll have already made the leap into the advanced world of augmented reality.
Don't make the mistake of assuming AR is just for video games and party tricks. And don't think for a moment that AR is a fad that will fade from consciousness. It's here to stay and it's growing.
Like any other digital land grab, those that embrace the change sooner rather than later will get the richest rewards.
Now, the only question that remains is this: Will you make the leap early and get these golden benefits?