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One of the most frequent questions I get from jewelry brand clients is “Why develop an application for virtual try-on and not use augmented reality on the web instead?”
Clients are concerned about potential customers migrating to an app from the company’s website, losing traffic, and eventually creating a bad customer journey. These concerns are legit and recent advances in AR technology have made web-based try-on solutions possible. Still, you’ll find hardly any browser-enabled virtual try-ons for rings, for example.
In this article, I’ll address some of the challenges of developing a web-based virtual try-on for jewelry that can pose risks for brands.
The McKinsey consultancy predicts that the overall fine-jewelry market value is expected to reach $360 bn by 2025, showing steady growth from $280 bn in 2019. Online fine jewelry sales will amount to 18–21% of global jewelry sales by 2025, up from 13% in 2019, signaling a significant industry shift to e-commerce.
For businesses, this trend translates into a search for engaging and interactive digital marketing channels that will distract customers from myriad other things they could do on the Internet or on their smartphones.
The ultimate goal is to beat the competition by giving potential clients an enhanced online shopping experience that mirrors in-store interaction with a product.
This is why jewelry brands are taking an interest in AR, and in particular, virtual try-ons available through AR-powered apps. The technology uses a smartphone camera to overlay a 3D render of a desired piece of jewelry on the image of a customer’s hand or face. It lets them see what a diamond ring or earrings will look like on them in real life.
Several big names in the jewelry business have already launched virtual try-ons.
The US jewelry retailer James Allen offers a try-on feature. Customers can use their smartphone to upload an image of their hand and select a ring from a virtual gallery to see how it looks.
An app from independent jewelry marketplace Diamond Hedge allows its users to pick a diamond from available options, customize the ring, and try it on virtually.
Most of these examples use native apps. But are modern web plugins that enable virtual try-on in browsers, leveraging the power of augmented reality on the web, also a viable option for the jewelry business?
Web-based augmented reality allows users to activate AR experiences through a mobile or desktop web browser without downloading an app.
Usually, the AR experience is launched through a custom URL or a QR code (markers). Users scan a marker to see the AR content in their environment through the browser.
Web-based virtual try-ons mostly rely on plugins that enable AR and real-time tracking technology. Since machine learning (ML) models for this technology are available in a browser, their code is also available to anyone who would like to copy or learn from them.
The Facemesh package for tracking key landmarks on faces, for instance, is a popular ML model that developers made public and can be used to develop try-on solutions.
Similar examples of web AR software are widely used in fashion retailing. Virtual try-on of makeup, eyewear, hats, and other accessories rely on face tracking to create an approximate 3D facial surface geometry and overlay a product in the proper position. For instance, Maybelline, Eyebuydirect, Fashioneyewear, and Jins let customers try on their products without leaving their browsers.
However, you’ll rarely find a web-based virtual try-on for rings. There are several reasons for that.
One of the key barriers to virtual try-on for jewelry, in particular for rings, is that there are no high quality ready-made open-source solutions available. There are open-source hand-tracking ML models, like MediPipe Hands for example, but their capabilities max out at evaluating the size of the hand and spotting knuckles.
Developing a virtual ring try-on is a very labor-intensive process that requires complex calculations to estimate a finger’s width, landmark detection for proper rendering of a 3D ring model, and numerous approximations until the desired result is achieved.
This leads to the first challenge related to making virtual ring try-on available from a browser.
Anything on the web can be copied, including 3D models of jewelry pieces, rendering, shaders, and even the code for ML solutions. After a web page with an AR try-on experience is uploaded to a browser, anyone with proper knowledge can copy the information needed to create a similar solution. This poses a direct threat to jewelry brands — they risk losing their competitive advantage of offering a custom virtual try-on.
It’s much harder to copy something from a native app, since all the information is encrypted in binary code, which is comprehensible only to skilled software engineers.
Many features need to be tested when working with web-based AR. For instance, several versions of the same try-on plugin must be developed to ensure compatibility with various browsers — Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc. What if a user’s browser wasn’t updated, for instance? A web-based try-on won’t work properly in that case, so multiple versions should be created for each browser. Camera access remains an issue for augmented reality web experiences as well.
The major problem here is that the scope of development becomes unclear. In comparison, when working with native apps, developers have to provide only two versions of the solution — one for iOS and one for Android.
The problem here is that augmented reality web experiences rely on WiFi or mobile phone networks, either of which can cause data transmission delays, affecting the overall performance of browser try-on plugins. A native app doesn’t require an Internet connection. Further, native apps have access to all of a device’s capabilities, whereas a web page can access only certain features.
Also, rendering capabilities are limited in web browsers. Rendering and manipulating photorealistic 3D models of jewelry pieces is very resource-consuming in terms of computational power.
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Despite the challenges listed above, augmented reality web experiences, including virtual try-ons available from a browser, can bring brands substantial benefits:
By now you must be wondering if there’s a solution that can combine the best of both worlds — augmented reality on web and native apps.
The answer is an in-browser application that works partially from a browser as an inbound app. A group of diamond mining companies, AlRosa, experimented with this format and launched a solution that takes visitors from the company’s website to an inbound app without the need to download anything.
This can be a viable alternative to a full-fledged web-based AR try-on solution to help brands avoid the potential risks mentioned above.
Postindustria helps brands augment their digital positioning with AR-powered solutions. Just leave us your contact details below and we’ll get in touch to discuss your project.