The Rise of Augmented Reality in Online Shopping and Its Impact

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Consumers often form an emotional connection with brands through tangible experiences gained through their senses. From being able to walk around a physical store to having other forms of sensory product experiences, the brick-and-mortar environment innately offers customers an immersive experience. However, with the changing trends in global e-commerce and advancements in technology, customer experiences are evolving too. Since delivering a physical product experience is challenging in e-commerce, retailers must look beyond standard practices to be able to immerse consumers in a full brand experience. This is where augmented reality (AR) applications for e-commerce come in. Promising an immersive and round-the-clock personalised online shopping experience for shoppers, augmented reality technology is a big deal in the next era of e-commerce.

What is augmented reality?

While many might associate augmented reality with games such as Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters, its ability to blur the lines of reality is slowly transforming it into a hot tool to be used in everyday lives. By definition, augmented reality, or AR, are reality technologies that superimpose an image into a user’s view of the real world. Alongside the replacement of a real-life environment with a stimulated one, digital elements, such as sound and touch, can be added to enhance the experience. 

The difference between augmented reality and virtual reality

Although virtual reality and augmented reality sound similar, they are two different concepts. Augmented reality is designed for free movement since the virtual environment is specifically designed to coexist with the real world. Virtual reality, on the other hand, replaces a real-life environment with a simulated one. Completely fabricated, they take over one's vision, block out surroundings and transport users to a different world. 

Given the level of visual immersion delivered by virtual reality, it might seem like a better choice for e-commerce. However, it requires consumers to own VR headsets to be a part of this digital universe. Considering the number of people who have this specialised equipment compared to the billions of smartphone users, augmented reality is undoubtedly more accessible. Only requiring a smartphone or tablet screen to deliver an unprecedented level of engagement, e-commerce retailers that have AR functionality in their apps can leverage small screens to make big sales.    

How does augmented reality help e-commerce?

Efficiently bridging the gap between physical stores and online shopping experiences, augmented reality supports the thousands of customers who have grown increasingly reliant on e-commerce channels. Other ways augmented reality technology can benefit e-commerce includes: 

1. A full start-to-end experience

AR technology will not only provide shoppers with a tailor-made experience, but it will also provide more information about products they are interested in. Compared to online shopping sites that simply show models or mannequins wearing clothes or 360° view of products, AR e-commerce will allow them to see themselves in the outfits or preview products in innovative ways. Take for example the AR-powered app introduced by IKEA in 2017 or the “Try On” feature launched by Pinterest. These apps allow customers to visualise new products in their living space, letting them experience the products before heading to a showroom or making a purchase online.

When it comes to logistics, augmented reality tools can boost productivity. DHL Express, for example, has recognised the potential of AR technology in making the picking process more efficient. As a matter of fact, 40% to 60% of drivers spend more time at the distribution centre locating the correct boxes within their trucks for next day delivery. Rather than manually searching and retrieving items in a warehouse, AR will be able to provide the picker key pieces of information, accelerating the delivery process. AR could also speed up international freight handling, to instantly determine if a shipment complies with relevant trade regulations. 

As e-commerce grows in popularity, so does the need for last-mile delivery services. With requests to expedite urgent time-critical shipments, same day delivery has become common. This makes the development of seamless operational processes a must to ensure the earliest possible delivery. Given that AR has a promising future in the logistics industry, logistics providers can focus on improving other aspects of their business while AR handles the bulk of specific tasks. At DHL Express, AR technology is leveraged in multiple ways. Be it through training warehouse staff to ensure high standards of service or reducing the possibility of package damage, AR could help empower staff while improving productivity and customer satisfaction.

2. Increased sales

Rather than limiting customers to a finite number of images, augmented reality allows immersive interaction with products on an e-commerce site. Shopify, which has made Shopify AR available to e-commerce retailers, found that products advertised with VR/AR content saw a 94% higher conversion rate compared to products without such content. With open-source e-commerce platforms such as Magento and WooCommerce offering augmented reality plugins for an easier way to add 3D and AR experiences to store environments, retailers can enhance their customer’s buying journey without any apps or web development experience too.

3. Reduced return rates

While online shopping has become popular, so have the return rates. One common reason for consumers returning goods is due to them receiving products that look different. Since AR technology offers 3D visualisations and virtual try-on, customers are able to make more informed purchases, combating high return rates.

Capable of enhancing customers’ shopping experiences, augmented reality in e-commerce is a unique opportunity to connect with customers and boost sales. Already demonstrating tangible benefits for e-commerce merchants, AR technology is expected to expand dramatically. Making the small leap now and merging this tech with the demands of e-commerce will certainly boost more revenue.

Create an account with DHL Express to be at the receiving end of increased speed of operations and better picking accuracy with AR.