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Augmented Reality (AR) involves superimposing digital overlays and interactive features upon representations of the real world.

Although it's new as a mass marketing tool, AR has been around for a while, from the moment the term was coined in 1992. 1990s experiments of visionaries like Steve Mann in the 1990s and industrial applications like remote robot controls showed what was possible, but those applications were clunky and expensive.

However, the introduction of smartphones changed everything. Developers can now use smartphone tools like ARCore and ARKit to create AR apps that make full use of cameras, audio tech, and GPS.

As a result, Augmented Reality is now available for any company to use at an affordable price. It's become an essential tool in eCommerce and one that few online sellers can afford to ignore.

Just think about the possibilities. AR connects real-world objects to 3D models that can be tilted, rotated, and resized by customers. It turns real environments like walls or bushes into elements of immersive games. It can even summon up musical holograms for live performances when there are no artists in the room.

In this blog, we'll look at what AR does, how it works, and what companies are doing with the technology. With all of the bases covered, you should be well placed to decide whether it's time to augment your eCommerce strategy.

How does Augmented Reality differ from Virtual Reality?

Virtual and augmented reality are often confused but are in fact very different. AR can be accessed via a smartphone, while VR is typically based around headsets like in this image.

Before going any further, we need to clear up some confusion about how AR relates to Virtual Reality. AR has some similarities with VR, but in reality, it’s a very different tool with different uses and potential benefits.

VR:

  • Based around headsets, which can exclude those with visual problems and are expensive to purchase.
  • Generally requires extra processing power to handle graphics.
  • Requires mental effort to set up and use.
  • Creates an immersive virtual space set apart from reality.

AR:

  • Can be used on lightweight handheld devices and even contact lenses, with more devices coming online all the time.
  • Adds content as a digital overlay on top of the real environment instead of creating a virtual world for users to inhabit
  • Easy to use in everyday life. Just point a smartphone and access AR content instantly.
  • No extra equipment is needed aside from standard smartphones or tablets.

The Many Ways that AR is Transforming Everyday Life

The 2016 release of Pokemon Go with AR transformed the game to a whole new level.

The impact of AR is being felt in both society and the economy. On a social level, you can already detect many benefits of AR. That's before developers have really shown their skills and even approached the limits of Augmented Reality technology:

  • Gaming – For most people, AR experiences really hit the headlines when Pokemon Go launched in 2016. All over the world, smartphone users started to hunt for Pokemon in the physical world. From urban stores to parks, you'd find players using digital Poke Balls to capture their prey. Since then, other games have appeared with AR features, such as Zombie! Run and Jurassic World Alive and it's a hugely popular genre.
  • Disability – AR has also made a big impact on the way people with disabilities interact with the physical world. For instance, wearable gloves can now turn sign language into audible speech. Apps help to direct blind visitors around museums, while others are providing ways for autistic children to “practice” real-world tasks on digital objects without risk of injury or distraction.
  • Sports – Spectators at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium can now call up stats and giant representations of their favorite players, while the Vikings have experimented with AR-enhanced print programs offering interviews and other video content. Tools like vGolf also let players calculate distances and slopes, and get feedback on their swing speeds. Wherever you look, AR is changing sports, and the untapped potential is huge.

Those are just a few areas where Augmented Reality uses are changing the rules of the game. But you could add cooking and sourcing ingredients, Air Force training, navigating complex city streets, applying makeup, or even medical professionals carrying out surgery.

Clearly, AR systems have wide appeal across the board, helping to navigate the environment and understand the world in more detail.

How has Augmented Reality been used in the Modern Marketplace?

Low-cost furniture brand IKEA has been pioneering the application of AR technology to its retail and eCommerce business.

AR has also made a big impression on the way that companies operate, especially creative companies that are gaining an advantage by using AR in new ways. This trend was brought out starkly during the COVID pandemic but has been in the pipeline for years. Take these examples:

  • Real-time interior design – Swedish furniture giant IKEA quickly understood the power of ARkit, creating one of the first AR-assisted shopping tools in 2017. Since then, shoppers have been able to digitally impose virtual objects in their homes, getting a feel for how they will look in a customer's living space without the hassle of handling a single screw.
  • Cosmetic and fashion testing – Fashion companies have also benefited from allowing customers to style their products before buying. Eyewear retailer Warby Parker lets customers try their glasses for size via an AR app. And cosmetics seller Sephora has pioneered AR-enhanced makeup buying. When customers want to get looks “just right”, AR works brilliantly.
  • Changing the way physical stores work – AR applications have also found their way into the physical store design. Researchers are close to creating genuine virtual personal assistants to provide virtual information about every item in grocery stores, while Walgreens has already used AR to deliver recommendations to customers as they wander the aisles.

Again, that’s scratching the surface, and you’ll find many more examples of companies embracing AR right now. What’s clear is that businesses are discovering new ways to boost their bottom line via AR tools, and the ones that integrate AR most effectively will be the ones that thrive.

Why Adopting Augmented Reality is a Logical Step Forward for many Companies

Should your company invest in AR to serve your customers? Unless you cater for a tiny audience of elites who aren’t smartphone users, the answer for most companies must be yes.

The examples we’ve looked at already demonstrate how AR is being used by consumers and companies as a natural expansion of their existing lives or operations. But there are deeper reasons to make the shift now.

  • A step-change in eCommerce – The COVID pandemic shut millions of people in their homes, away from physical stores. As a result, most companies had to up their eCommerce games and for many of them introducing AR was a natural move. After the pandemic, consumers will be used to AR and mobile commerce and they won’t be keen to go back to business as usual.
  • AR can help solve the Returns Problem – Online sellers are constantly plagued by the need to process returns, sometimes with financially crippling results. AR selling helps to minimize returns by allowing customers to find the perfect product. Macy's has seen return rates plummet from 5-7% to under 2% after introducing AR. That’s a major bonus for any seller.
  • AR Technology just isn’t stopping – While smartphones are currently the number one device for AR development, other possibilities are on the horizon such as AR-equipped glasses, contact lenses, or even implanted tech. The direction of travel is towards interactivity and individual empowerment, and today’s APIs are sure to be eclipsed pretty soon.
  • AR is increasingly accessible and affordable – Embracing AR in your business operations is easier than ever. Specialists like CGTrader ARsenal allow companies to exploit large networks of professional 3D modelers, meaning that huge quantities of real objects can be modeled for use in interactive apps. Add in AR-generating software, and revolutionizing the way you sell isn’t hard at all.

Is Augmented Reality Being Embraced by the People?

Here we see 3 simple steps to open a furniture set from a simple QR code.

None of this would matter if AR proves a bust. However, that’s not likely to happen. Augmented Reality has proved popular across a host of economic sectors and all over the world, with consumers becoming used to encountering AR tools in everyday life.

  • According to Statista, there are almost 1 billion mobile AR users worldwide, a total that’s projected to rise to 1.73 billion by 2024.
  • Sales of AR glasses are rocketing. As Statista reports, smart glasses sales are projected to rise from 170,000 in 2019 to 3.9 million in 2024.
  • A 2021 study of 20,000 shoppers by Foresight Factory found that 30% of UK shoppers would be more likely to buy from companies that offer AR technologies like virtual fitting rooms.
  • According to Think With Google, 66% of web searchers say they want AR assistance when shopping. 60% also want the ability to see where products fit into their lifestyles, a key strength of mobile-based AR.

If you’re wondering what AR is going to do for your business in the long term, these stats should provide food for thought.

Augmented Reality is already playing a key role in the way people shop and the expectations they have about retailers. People are getting used to manipulating virtual objects via smart glasses and phones. And they like the experience of mixed reality eCommerce.

In that context, the question for sellers isn’t whether or not they should embrace AR. But how can they do so, and what is the best way?

How your Business can join the AR Revolution

Create your own branded AR experiences directly from our platform.

The answer is simple: enlist the help of AR experts like CGTrader who can convert your physical products into AR experiences that delight your audience.

Anyone can easily create AR experiences via CGTRader’s ARsenal platform. As long as you have a library of 3D models in gITF, USDZ, or GLB format, and a simple preview image, you can conjure up AR experiences with zero technical knowledge directly from this platform.

For example, CGTrader ARsenal’s client Buster and Punch, the London-based furniture retailer, recently integrated AR into its eCommerce store, allowing customers to access 360 views or to view items “in their space” via a single button press.

This lets customers visualize how complex furnishings will appear and decide whether they will fit into their surroundings. When prices are high and consumers know exactly what they want, that kind of customization is guaranteed to lead to higher conversions.

It's also perfectly suited to new technologies like AR glasses. It's easy to envisage Buster and Punch customers calling up various sideboards or tables via head-mounted displays. Companies like that will be well placed as new AR hardware appears, so why not join them?

Offer Customers More by Making AR Part of Your Business

Ecommerce is rapidly changing. Customers now expect interactivity like never before. New mobile selling concepts are becoming commonplace, as older 2D-based catalogs and payment systems lose relevance. AR headsets like Google Glass or Microsoft's Hololens are being adopted by millions of wearers.

To move with the tide, companies need to adopt the latest innovations, and Augmented Reality should be at the top of the list.

AR makes it possible to offer satisfying customer experiences, whether that involves gamification or 3D viewing. It helps to reduce return rates, improves customer satisfaction and – when everything is calculated – it definitely boosts the bottom line.

Thanks to the advent of Google and iOS AR toolkits and the growth of affordable AR software and 3D modeling, it’s never been easier to augment the way you sell.

At CGTrader, we want to help your business reach its full potential. Get in touch and start creating immersive 3D and AR experiences today.

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Augmented Reality: everything you need to know to get started

Juste Semetaite is the Head of Marketing at CGTrader. Obsessed with learning through doing, Juste has heaps of experience in communications, storytelling, and journalism. She’s a lover of books, travel, and murder mysteries – and now investigates the power of 3D & AR technology for retail.

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