It’s still early days for augmented reality, but consumers who try it like it, especially as a way to visualize the way products would look in their homes. Here are suggestions on how to overcome early-adopter challenges and integrate AR into your e-commerce operation.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO, Vertebrae, Inc.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO, Vertebrae, Inc.

2018 has been a big year for augmented reality (AR) as a widening group of retailers invest in the new technology to blend the physical and digital worlds for shoppers. Early results have been phenomenal, and include a 104% increase for Lowe’s and 64% for Build.com. Interior design platform, Houzz, reported consumers exposed to AR products were 11 times more likely to purchase and spent 2.7 times more time in the Houzz app.

A major driver of this growth are technical advances that make AR easier to implement and manage. In particular, Apple’s recent release of iOs 12 offers much higher quality AR in the browser. With more than 50% of iPhone users already running the newest OS, this is already impacting the mobile commerce experience.

But the single biggest factor driving adoption is the shopper. Consumers not only love AR, they want immersive shopping experiences just as much as, if not more than, they want a consistent experience across web and mobile.

A successful AR initiative requires the ability to create, manage and integrate 3D assets at scale.

A recent Vertebrae consumer survey found that 78% of people who’ve experienced AR actively prefer these virtual experiences over video content. When asked to create their ideal AR experience, more than half (57%) stated that they’d like to place items they are considering purchasing in their own environment. This was the single most popular response, outpacing AR games (45%) and Snapchat-style filters, lenses and effects (32%).

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If you add in the fact that AR consumers are typically higher-income Millennials, AR should be an immediate priority for all retailers who need to connect with a rising generation of buyers.  But the majority of retailers are still learning the ropes. Only 1 in 10 brands say they’ve integrated AR into their marketing efforts already, according to recent data from the Boston Consulting Group; another 45% say they’re in experimental mode, and 35% say they have future plans to use it.

Two things to keep in mind

To stay in step with consumers, retailers clearly need to accelerate AR adoption. But not all experiences are created equal. Retailers must keep two considerations top of mind if they are to ensure AR becomes a business tool, not a gimmick.

First and foremost, industry professionals point to a scarcity of quality content as one of the largest barriers to wider AR adoption. A successful AR initiative requires the ability to create, manage and integrate 3D assets at scale. However, basic 3D modeling falls outside of the skillset of traditional in-house creative and design teams, and expensive experts are more likely to take their talent to Hollywood or Madison Avenue.

Even in the hands of experienced programmers, the AR creation process has been slow, manual, and time-consuming—and AR is generally limited to a few select products. But tools and platforms are now emerging that ease conversion of product and brand assets to 3D, so that merchants no longer need dedicated technical resources in order to meet their AR goals. This new approach, similar to Scene7’s impact in rich media, promises to put immersive media in the hands of any retailer in the next three to six months.

Second, as AR adoption grows, so do expectations for AR to be useful and not just cool. Two-thirds of consumers told Accenture they wanted AR apps to help them explore a place they’re visiting or learn a new skill, and 58% said they wanted access to AR product manuals. Similarly, as mentioned above, 57% of Vertebrae’s survey respondents said they wanted AR help visualizing how products would look in their environments.

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AR on product pages

The message is clear: If they’re to create meaningful shopping experiences, retailers must propel AR beyond branded campaigns. Tight integration with e-commerce product page displays, visual input and AR output for on-site search, and connectors to one-touch ordering are among the list of features merchants should seek from potential AR development partners.

Retailers should also consider using Web-based AR, which can bring 3D to any existing web or mobile site—no app required.  This approach allows retailers to easily integrate AR directly onto the product page where their customers already research and purchase, adding new levels of consumer confidence and satisfaction.

While still nascent, augmented reality has the potential to dissolve the barriers between online and offline experiences and meet consumer demand for interactive shopping tools. To realize that potential, merchants should overcome early-adopter challenges to create meaningful, commerce-optimized applications.

Vertebrae provides technology for creating, managing and delivering 3-dimensional and augmented reality experiences on the web.

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