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Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic

Constantine Sharandak
19 Aug 2021
6 min
Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic

Nothing brings out our inner hunters like retail shopping. And though the true thrill of the hunt is in the wild — deep in the jungle of stores in the shade of shelves — we can’t enjoy it to the full if we want to stay safe during COVID-19. But don’t rush to hide your hunting spears (or credit cards). Thanks to the growing use of augmented reality in e-commerce, we can now feel the thrill in our homes.

Believe it or not, but in the space of 90 days, COVID propelled retail shopping 10 years forward. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how this leap happened, what changes in customer behavior it has caused, and why augmented reality is one of the trends transforming e-commerce. And if this isn’t enough, the most popular augmented reality e-commerce examples are waiting for you as well.   

So let’s start!

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    E-commerce set to shine in the post-COVID world

    A year into the pandemic, and in some parts of the world the stay-at-home order is still in place, keeping us bored at home but safe and healthy. In 2020, half of Americans avoided shopping in-store, while roughly three-quarters of the population said they would steer away from shopping malls if the outbreak continues to worsen. 

    A high risk of catching the virus in confined spaces, along with imposed restrictions, shifted consumer’s attention from physical stores to e-commerce. During 2020, e-commerce sales soared 27.6% (what a surprise!), heading towards $5 trillion in 2021. Here are some stats to consider:

    • In 2020, US adults spent roughly 8 hours a day online. This is 1 hour more than before the pandemic. And for the first time in history, smartphone time exceeded 3 hours a day.
    • For 80% of US customers, the buying experience is as important as or even more important than the product.
    • Almost 90% of customers expect more digital initiatives from companies due to the pandemic.

    The problem is that e-commerce isn’t a silver bullet: during the second quarter of 2020, 3.32% of website visits were converted into purchases, while for brick and mortar stores the average conversion rate starts from 25%. That’s because scanning websites, staring at photos on the screen can’t give you a true feeling of the size and color. But an augmented reality e-commerce app does just that. So the next time your inner hunter decides to come out, you’ll know what to do.

    Augmented reality in e-commerce: a savior or a fad?

    Initially, augmented reality (AR) was a gimmick to toy around with, but today, it’s one of the top 10 trends in e-commerce (Gartner said, not us). AR solves real pain points for both sellers and customers:

    • Safety of shopping at home. With AR, we can make better shopping choices while staying safe and well at home during the pandemic.  
    • More informative decisions. AR allows customers to lay their doubts to rest by “trying products out” before purchase. 
    • Gamified experience. AR brings sellers closer to their customers by making shopping more emotional and engaging: 71.5% of customers say that augmented reality is what they are most eager to see for e-commerce.  
    • Higher conversion rates. By using AR tools, retailers can double conversion rates.

    With that said, it comes as no surprise that the number of US retailers planning to invest in AR for their online stores grew by 2.6 times within 6 months, from 8% in January to 21% in June. And if you are among those who still aren’t using augmented reality in e-commerce, it’s high time to jump on board.

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      Augmented reality e-commerce examples

      AR is readily available for brands aiming to improve the engagement and loyalty of their customers – they are increasingly drawn to AR. Why? Just look at these examples!

      Virtual Showrooms

      Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic - photo 1
      Courtesy of Piaget

      Instead of browsing dozens of websites, you can now enter a virtual boutique, like the one luxury jeweler and watchmaker Piaget rolled out recently. Once you enter the space, you can choose among hundreds of products, visualize them in 3D, or view them at different angles. 

      This solution is a boon for industries such as furniture and home decor where the on-the-spot appearance of products drives customer’s decisions. 

      Virtual try-on

      Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic - photo 2
      Courtesy of Sephora

      When it comes to augmented reality, fashion e-commerce is among the top sectors that come to mind. You never know how a blouse, a pair of glasses, or a burgundy lipstick will look on you until you try them out, and this is where AR apps like Sephora’s virtual artist or Kohl’s virtual closet come in handy. 

      With AR, you can go even further and try on a … wardrobe. Not on yourself, of course. Open an app like IKEA Place, the Home Depot, or Amazon, scan your room, and swipe through dozens of wardrobes.   

      Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic - photo 3
      Courtesy of IKEA

      Virtual Measurements

      Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic - photo 4
      Courtesy of Nike

      Whether you choose a new pair of sneakers or a new cat condo, you don’t need to worry about the size — let AR do the job for you. Augmented reality technologies used for e-commerce can measure your feet or waist size, fit real-scaled furniture objects into your room, or even become a ruler if you suddenly decide to calculate your room’s area.

      AR Manual

      Courtesy of IKEA

      Nothing strengthens your personal relationships more than assembling a chair for 6 hours together. But don’t fret! With AR manuals, you can finally forget this – just like a bad dream. Instead of reading or staring at pictures, trying to figure out what they mean, AR provides you with an interactive step-by-step guide. You just need to scan the item and watch how augmented reality brings its parts together on the screen. And by the way, e-commerce is not the only area of application. AR can also bring to life any technical documentation.

      Augmented Reality in E-commerce: Keeping Online Shopping Safe During the Pandemic - photo 6
      Courtesy of Harvard Business Review

      The bottom line

      The top priority for us all is to remain safe during the pandemic: stay at home, avoid the risk of catching the virus, and reduce the pressure on the healthcare system so that it can continue saving lives. But at the same time, we are humans — we long for adventures. 

      Due to the augmented reality in e-commerce, we can finally experience real-life shopping and revive the forgotten thrill of a good hunt. Besides, AR brings more industries online, so even sectors like furniture and home design can start their digital transformation, as we described earlier in this post

      At Postindustria, we believe that augmented reality is the future of e-commerce. What do you think? If you want to learn more about AR applications, check out our posts about diamond rendering, jewelry AR Tryon, and mixed reality.

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