Can AR improve your low mobile conversion rates?


Augmented Reality (or AR for short) seems to be a topic on all the big tech giants’ minds.

The concept involves overlaying a live feed with a digital layer. Though this sounds complicated, we see versions of it everyday with things such as Snapchat’s filters and the incredibly popular Pokémon Go.

From Google to Apple and Facebook to Amazon, it looks like everyone is taking big bets on AR being the technology of the future. With Apple’s release of the ARkit and Google’s ARcore, access to AR technology is more and more readily available to developers.

But what does this mean for the online retail world? This article will explain.

VR - where it all began

Some would say it all started with virtual reality (VR), when a user wears a headset and is transported to completed virtual world that the user can move around and interact with. This technology is simpler than AR as it does not involve superimposing images on to the real world, but creating a whole new one.

It appears to be the stepping stone into this new improved reality space for many companies. At this year’s CES it seemed like everyone was touting their new VR devices, with Facebook previewing its new Oculus GO, Google and Lenovo partnered together to release a new headset and HTC presented its new Vive.

VR is seeing real potential in the gaming industry, where players can be fully immersed in the game. However, we have seen it move into new spaces. The Vive, for example, is being used by Black Box VR to create virtual reality workouts with specialised equipment.

VR is already in use in the online retail world. Alibaba released Buy+ in 2016, where users download an app and use a cardboard headset to be transported to shopping centres all around the world, such as Macy’s in New York, for example. They can then ‘walk’ around the store and select items simply by looking at them. Then, in a few head nods, they can go through with the purchase.

Not only does this bring a refreshing new twist to shopping online, it also adds the element of fun and novelty that shoppers, especially in China, seem to gravitate towards.

Alibaba’s Buy+

This idea can go even further, with more and more retailers creating ‘virtual’ stores that would do more in breaking the barriers between online and physical retail. However, there does not seem to be great demand for this from shoppers, with VR still being treated as more of a novelty, fun experience, than something to incorporate into daily life.

That is where augmented reality comes in.

AR - the future

Though we’ve all been using AR technology for years without really realising it (see Snapchat and Pokémon Go above), 2017 is the year that AR really took off. Just to be clear though, we are still a long way from AR headsets that give us digital information in real time.


The implications from what we are already seeing is enough to suspect that AR will change the face of a great number of industries, retail included. Tim Cook, himself, said, ‘Put simply, we believe AR is going to change the way we use technology forever.’ A pretty resounding statement from the CEO of the world’s biggest tech company.

Part of the reason for AR’s explosion this year was due to Apple’s release of ARkit and Google’s of ARcore. This means that anyone who owns one of their smartphones can have access to augmented reality technology.

In fact:

According to Digi-Capital, there will be over 900 million AR-enabled smartphones in circulation by the end of 2018. And we’ve already seen retailers take advantage of its capabilities, with many releasing apps incorporating the technology.

One of the first adopters was Ikea and its app ‘Ikea Place’. Through the app, shoppers are able to select Ikea products and, using their phone’s camera, superimpose them into their environment.

The app was a big hit and showed the implications that AR has for solving issues that have historically been problematic for online retailers: visualisation and scale. While until this point, the shopper had to rely on potentially misleading images of a product and physical dimensions to get an idea of scale and context, AR offers them the opportunity to see how an item would fit in their space through all 360 degrees.

In the time since, a bevy of homeware and furniture companies like Anthropologie, Wayfair, Houzz, Target and even Amazon have jumped on board. Being able to interact with products before buying them means that customer are more likely to know exactly what they have purchased leading to lower return rates. Furthermore, according to Varsamis, “time on page” for customers using AR is 2-3 times greater than for non AR shoppers.

Sephora’s Virtual Artist

But furniture brands are not the only ones taking advantage of this new trend.

The beauty industry has also been quick to adopt it. Indeed, Sephora released an app that incorporated AR before ARkit was made available to developers.

Convincing people to buy makeup online has been a problem for beauty brands as people tend to want to try the product before going through with the purchase. However, Sephora is trying to overcome that with its ‘Virtual Artist’ which allows customers to take a selfie and then see how different products would look on them.

Beyond the usefulness of being able to try before you buy, the app also adds an element of entertainment for the brand. And, as we saw with Alibaba’s Buy+, entertainment is a good thing: it increases brand engagement and keeps the brand in the customer’s mind so that when they are ready to convert, they automatically go straight to them.

We’ve seen other brands use AR to increase brand engagement, such as Burberry, who launched an app that let users incorporate Danny Sangra drawings into pictures taken on their phone.

Other creative examples of how AR has been implemented by different companies include the likes of Dulux and Lowe’s. Dulux, a paint company, allows users to change the colours of their walls to see if any given colour would look good in their home.

Lowe’s, on the other hand, has created a very useful app called Measured by Lowe’s, which lets users measure any space or item, and gives them accurate measurements without the need for a tape measure. The creation of apps like these, that fulfill an actual need, are the reason why experts predict that AR is not just a fad and will stick around for the long term.

Not to be completely outdone by online, there is also a place for AR in physical retail.

In fact:

Special AR enabled mirrors could rid us of the need for changing rooms. Topshop recently installed a mirror in its flagship store that shows users how clothes would look on them without the need for them to get changed.

This is just an example of how physical stores are turning to experiences to draw in more customers and how the barrier between the online and offline world is crumbling. By using this mirror, customers could be sure of the size they want and, if it’s not available in-store, it could easily be shipped to them instead.

So what does all this mean? 

AR is clearly still only in its early stages and yet there are already so many opportunities for retailers. It has the possibility of solving big problems such as mobile conversion rates, where, while mobile traffic is very high, the conversion rate is lower than desktop.

Giving customers the option of almost tangibly seeing products in their own environment using just their mobiles, there is little doubt that this could improve sales on the channel. Furthermore, products that may not appeal to shoppers in 2D images might be far more alluring when seen through AR.

And the benefits don’t just end there.

AR could be implemented at all stages of the selling journey. From finding the correct size box to send a product in, to figuring out warehouse spacing. Really the possibilities for the technology are endless and this is only the beginning.  


By: Lengow

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