Retail e-commerce: How AR and VR can transform shopping

Augmented and Virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies are revolutionizing the way people shop for products and e-commerce enterprises can deliver superior customer experiences.

IDG Staff Feb 01st 2018
ar_vr.jpg

Higher computing power and better graphics processing are two prime factors leading to better immersion technologies like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The marriage of VR-AR with e-commerce is inevitable. Virtual Reality would provide a deeply immersive experience in the form of a virtual store to shoppers. Augmented Reality would make the task of visualizing products much easier for the buyers. Over the long run, every e-commerce company will have to take these technologies seriously in order to maintain the competitive edge in the hyper-competitive market.

The boundaries between the `Real’ and `Virtual’  are blurring

As computing power is increasing, stronger graphics-processing systems are taking user experience to a whole new level of “immersion”. Traditionally, human-machine interaction has been carried out using mouse, touchscreens, and keyboards among others. Seasoned industrial designers argued about the fact that this scheme of interaction is rather one that has been borne out of constraints in processing power. They predicted that as processing systems evolve, these traditional machine-human interaction devices will soon become obsolete and will be replaced by a more natural communication mechanism which would directly involve the five senses of the human body that includes touch, taste, smell, visual and auditory sensation.

 Imagine yourself immersing in a virtual computer-generated universe where you can employ all these five senses to interact exactly as you do in the real world. This is virtual reality. Now imagine a universe where this computer-generated universe augments with the real world and that becomes augmented reality. Though the current technology is not capable of leveraging touch, taste and smell very well, we have been slowly mastering immersion in visual and auditory sensation.

Enter e-commerce: Virtual Reality

What happens if we marry AR-VR with e-commerce? 
 You get a user experience, which has an incredible ‘wow’ factor to it. Say you run an e-commerce business where your users can discover, choose, checkout and pay for inventory. Now imagine you expose a virtual reality interface to your shopper. Your shopper wears a VR headset and she instantly finds herself in your virtual shop. She has an entire three-dimensional view of that shop. She can walk around, explore, and discover new items exactly like she would do in the real world. Suppose she wants to know more about say a new phone in the shop, she focuses her sight on the phone and instantly, she has the specs right in front of her, along with the price, best offers and other information that she requires to make an informed decision. She likes the deal and continues with the payment or maybe she adds the phone to her cart and goes back to your virtual shop to do some more window-shopping. 

Enter e-commerce: Augmented Reality

This was a small VR walkthrough. Let’s do a small AR walkthrough now. Let’s assume your shopper wants to buy a sofa for her living room. She opens your app and she finds a nice looking sofa set but she isn’t sure how the sofa would look in her living room. If your app is AR enabled, she would simply fire up her mobile camera and point it to the place in her living room where she wants to keep the sofa. The moment she does that, your app places a 3-D model of the sofa as an overlay on the live image of the living room. Now it becomes very easy for your shopper to visualize how the sofa would look like in her living room. She can rotate the camera and see where the new furniture fits best. AR can be used in a similar fashion in the domain of jewelry, and lifestyle among others. 

How Industry giants are deploying AR/VR

Internet retail giants like Amazon are excited about augmented reality and virtual reality. Recently, Amazon integrated an AR shopping experience to their iOS app. Marketplace giant eBay also teamed up with Australian retailer, Myers to launch a virtual reality department store. There is a lot of excitement in startups, that are combining AR-VR with e-commerce and some of them are becoming hot targets for acquisitions.

AR and VR will disrupt customer shopping experience

AR-VR technologies are only set to evolve over time to disrupt the e-com sector. It is the third most evolving platform after the desktops and mobiles for retail online shopping. As the technology for AR/VR starts becoming more open and standardized, companies in the e-commerce sector will do well to leverage them in order to gain a competitive edge.