Google will soon being presenting AR and 3D visualizations within search results as it seeks to win consumers back from starting their searches on Amazon. For retailers employing 3D images and augmented reality, it’s an opportunity to stand out in search results.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO, Vertebrae, Inc.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO, Vertebrae, Inc.

The ability to see a product in 3D on a product detail page, and then visualize that same product in your actual environment using augmented reality has already been gaining traction thanks to its potential to engage shoppers, add context to purchasing decisions, and reduce returns. Demand is growing: more than half of consumers in a Vertebrae study sought help visualizing products in their environments, and a quarter wanted to use augmented reality to try out products and looks.

Now, as of early May, the list of potential benefits also includes search visibility. At its I/O developers’ conference, Google announced that AR and 3D visualizations would be accessible in search results within the month, meaning consumers using mobile devices will be able to open 3D and AR product visualizations directly from the search results page.

It’s one thing to read that a great white shark can be 18 feet long. It’s another to see it up close in relation to the things around you.

Here’s how Google explained it in a blog:

“With new AR features in Search rolling out later this month, you can view and interact with 3D objects right from Search and place them directly into your own space, giving you a sense of scale and detail. For example, it’s one thing to read that a great white shark can be 18 feet long. It’s another to see it up close in relation to the things around you. So when you search for select animals, you’ll get an option right in the Knowledge Panel to view them in 3D and AR.”

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Additionally, Google announced further improvements to its Chrome toolset for enabling direct web-based access to 3D & AR assets, at accurate size and scale. The revved-up capabilities mean that shoppers can experience the same features on ecommerce site product pages as in search, considering products from all angles and in-context without straying from the path to purchase. This is in addition to Apple’s AR functionality released last year in Safari on iOS, meaning 3D and AR product experiences are now frictionlessly accessible to all consumers.

Big names join the Google pilot

The moves are the latest salvos in the battle for dominance when it comes to online shopping research. With Amazon now claiming bragging rights as the leading starting destination for online product searches, Google’s integration of 3D and AR is a strategic move to maintain the lead when it comes to shopping innovation.

Given that Google dominates the search field overall, the new features mean that retailers already piloting web-based 3D and AR commerce on their owned and operated sites are poised to stand out in search results—potentially gaining an advantage heading into the crucial holiday season. Target, Wayfair, New Balance, and a handful of other beta partners are the first to try Google’s new tools.

For the majority of merchants, though, the Google news may prompt a scramble to accelerate 3D and AR development. Just one 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.

To stay ahead of the curve and ramp up 3D and AR efforts fast, merchants should:

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Think syndication, not segregation.

The technology for viewing 3D and AR visual content within the web browser is now widespread, significantly increasing the number of potential uses for merchant investments. By liberating 3D and AR from siloed mobile apps and developing 3D and AR commerce experiences for the open web, retailers can not only showcase 3D and AR  assets within Google search results; they can deploy those assets throughout their own ecommerce product pages for both mobile and desktop users on iOS and Android, from the product page to transactional email. Furthermore, Facebook’s plans to broaden compatibility and deployment of its Spark AR platform means those same assets can deliver value in social media.

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, merchants should invest in high-fidelity, lightweight 3D and AR product assets and integrate them tightly with their product catalog and commerce platform—to seamlessly deploy everywhere customers shop. Asset storage and management should also be structured for ease of syndication.

Prioritize key products and categories.

Merchants contending with budget constraints should focus their initial 3D and AR efforts on those products and categories most likely to produce results. For example, high-consideration, low-conversion products are a good place to start. At the same time, retailers will need to have a comprehensive 3D and AR creative strategy in place from the outset so they can scale up quickly once ROI is proven.

Make measurable goals part of the implementation.

As the search and mobile commerce frontiers open to 3D and AR, it’s important to keep the lessons of paid search advertising in mind. Retailers should deploy their 3D and AR  assets in tandem with coordinated messaging campaigns that have measurable goals—whether to increase inbound traffic and acquisition through social media and search, boost conversion and average order values on-site, or entice cart or browse abandoners through retargeted search.

Additionally, merchants should ensure 3D and AR usage can be tracked and integrated into company analytics to maximize their ability to leverage and position assets for peak effectiveness.

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 3D and AR product experiences are quickly becoming a must-have feature for merchants. As they navigate widening adoption of 3D and AR for commerce, sellers can maximize their investments by deploying assets widely for key categories and products.

Vertebrae Inc. offers an augmented reality ecommerce and advertising platform designed to enable enables brands and retailers to showcase products and tell stories by using the smartphone camera as a marketing tool.

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