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3D and augmented reality in ecommerce:
a revolution in shopping 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the profound impact of 3D and AR in ecommerce, examining the use-cases and benefits, and providing best-practice guidance for how to leverage this technology to revolutionize the online shopping experience.

Competitive advantage

In the ever-evolving landscape of ecommerce, businesses are constantly searching for innovative ways to engage customers and enhance their shopping experience. It’s in this context that augmented reality (AR) and 3D have emerged as game-changers, providing a way to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds and offering significant benefits for both businesses and consumers.  

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality is a technology that blends the real and virtual worlds by overlaying digital content onto the users’ physical environment. It is a powerful tool that can transform the way consumers interact with products when shopping online, enabling brands to offer functionality such as product visualizations, where users can project a life-size 3D model of a potential purchase in their own space using just a digital device, virtual try-ons, and enhanced product listings.

With most modern smartphones enabled for AR content as standard, the adoption of the technology is already widespread and is expected to become practically ubiquitous; by 2025, 75% of the global population – and almost all smartphone owners – are forecast to be frequent users.

“I’m excited about AR. My view is it’s the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives.”

--Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

The role of AR in ecommerce

The rapid growth of ecommerce has long since passed a tipping point. More than 75% of people shop online at least once a month, while according to Google, over 60% of shopping journeys begin online – including those that end with an in-store purchase. As a result, customer engagement strategies have had to evolve accordingly, ensuring the buyer’s ecommerce journey is optimized in such a way that maximizes the chance of making a sale – and minimizes the chance of a subsequent return.

This is where 3D and AR offers huge advantages to business, empowering online shoppers with new levels of confidence, convenience, and control. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most common use-cases of AR in ecommerce:

Most common use-cases of AR in ecommerce

One of the most effective integrations of AR in ecommerce is the virtual try-on. When this functionality is offered, customers can ‘try on’ clothing, accessories, and even makeup via AR projection, using just a smartphone or tablet. This enables shoppers to check for style, size, and suitability, empowering them to buy online with greater confidence. 

3D and AR can transform static product images into interactive 3D demonstrations. By allowing users to rotate, zoom and examine items from every angle, while highlighting key product features and functionalities, companies can bring their range to life in new and exciting ways and offer online shoppers greater levels of interactivity and understanding than ever before.  

Live configuration functionality allows consumers to change a product’s attributes, such as its color, material, or finish, and to experiment with different build options and upgrades in order to find their preferred combination. Changes are made instantly, at the click of a button, enabling companies to showcase every product option in their range, without space constraints, while offering buyers the kind of customization ability that increases the chance of them finding their perfect option.  

“The conversion rates that we’ve seen have surprised us, as a result we’re doubling down on AR experiences to drive ecommerce.”

--Robert Triefus, EVP of Brand & Customer Engagement, Gucci

How effective is AR in ecommerce?

We’ve looked at the ways 3D and AR can enhance customer journeys and improve the purchase experience, but what impact do these technologies have on the all-important bottom line? The short answer is that 3D and AR are proven to boost conversion rates and lead to fewer product returns, while offering benefits across a host of other sales and engagement metrics. We’ve compiled the most compelling datapoints below:  

How AR can be effective for your business

Research cited by Deloitte/Snap found that consumers interacting with products through AR experiences led to a 94% increase in conversion rates. These results are mirrored by findings from a host of firms:

US home improvement giant Home Depot found that implementing AR-powered product visualizations led to conversion rates 2-3 times higher than their ecommerce benchmarks.

Shopify, the ecommerce platform, reported that product listings integrating 3D and AR content saw conversion rates 94% higher than those without.

The UK’s leading sofa retailer, DFS, implemented the world’s largest web-based AR solution, enabling visualizations of more than 10,000 of its products, and saw conversion rates 112% higher amongst shoppers who interacted with the tool.

Virtual try-ons have been shown to increase customer engagement significantly. When beauty brand MAC launched a virtual try-on tool, allowing users to preview how the brand’s products would look on their skin, it saw customer engagement increase by 200%. Research indicates that 71% of shoppers will shop more often when a retailer offers AR experiences, while anecdotal evidence suggests that visualization and configuration functionalities increase website dwell time as consumers spend longer interacting with their potential purchases.

Product returns are a significant – and growing – concern for retailers, with estimates placing the cost at $550 billion each year in the US alone. But a host of ecommerce businesses have used product visualization and other immersive experiences to slash return rates: 

Shopify reported a 40% reduction in returns when product visualizations were used as part of the purchasing process.

Home improvement retailer Build.com found that returns for purchases made using AR functionality were 22% lower than for those made without. With around 5,000 customers using their AR tool each month, the retailer cited enabling users to interact with products in their real-world environment – for example, using visualizations to test a replacement faucet to ensure it doesn’t hit the existing backsplash – as key to the success of their AR integration in reducing returns.

Interactive demos, product visualizations, virtual try-ons, and associated AR functionality all make for a better user experience, with 80% of shoppers stating they feel more confident in purchases made using AR, in turn leading to higher levels of customer satisfaction.  

With the added transparency and interactivity that immersive experiences offer, research has found that 40% of shoppers would be willing to pay more for products they can trial through 3D and AR first.  

Big-picture benefits

In addition to the quantifiable gains evidenced by integrating 3D and AR in ecommerce, the technology offers brands an array of benefits higher up the purchase funnel, such as the ability to create innovative and memorable marketing campaigns and to offer consumers interactive immersive experiences that create excitement around upcoming product launches.

Lucasfilm, for example, used AR to promote the second season of its Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” allowing users to visualize characters and re-enact scenes from the show in their own homes. Jaguar-Land Rover, meanwhile, deployed an AR campaign for the launch of its Range Rover Velar model, allowing users to climb into the driver’s seat from anywhere using just a smartphone. The web-based implementation enabled users to look around the car’s interior in 360 degrees, configuring color and upholstery – resulting in an average interaction time of over two minutes per session.

Maximizing potential

One of the keys to successfully integrating immersive experiences is being aware of steps companies can take to maximize the potential of the technology and ensure the customer experience is optimal.

For example, a 3D and AR experience that is slow, clunky, or glitchy - or fails to launch at all - can frustrate users and provide a poor representation of the product, making buyers less likely to purchase.

To avoid this, businesses should prioritize selecting the right technology partner – one that can deliver a smooth implementation when deploying immersive experiences and that can ensure compatibility across different mobile devices, providing an optimal viewing experience regardless of the user’s chosen platform.

Additional hardware requirements

Some immersive experiences require additional hardware, such as glasses or a headset, in order to be accessed. This can be impractical for some users, particularly if the required hardware is expensive or unsuited to use out of the home. By designing their experience to be accessible directly from the website, requiring just a smartphone or tablet, businesses can open up the reach of their deployment to the widest audience possible.

Alongside practical considerations, companies should be mindful of the impact flawed user experiences can have on brand perception. A glitchy AR deployment will likely cause shoppers to take a less favorable view of a brand, in the same way a poor in-store experience would. Meanwhile, a recent study by Omnicom Media Group found that some users felt alienated by AR experiences due to misgendering or the removal of defining characteristics.

By partnering with sector experts who can guide them through the planning and development of their immersive experiences, firms can ensure the technology is free to achieve its maximum potential, and the user-experience is prioritized at every step along the journey.

“AR has quickly become an essential technology for retailers.”

-- Harvard Business Review

How to address integration

Exploring the potential of 3D and AR for ecommerce opens up exciting possibilities for enhancing customer experience and boosting sales. We've identified a number of practical steps for smooth adoption, ensuring businesses can effortlessly integrate these innovative technologies. The below are some easy-to-implement solutions for common scenarios:

Required expertise

Some 3D and AR experiences require a level of technical or coding knowledge to develop and implement, which can place additional training and staffing requirements on a business. The most effective way to avoid this is to deploy a web-based AR solution, which can be integrated into a company’s existing ecosystem quickly and easily.  

A umbrella 3D presentation

Minimizing friction

3D and AR can vastly improve customer engagement, so it's smart business sense to ensure any immersive rollout is available to the broadest number of customers possible. Some immersive solutions require users to download a separate app in order to access the experience, and this can have the effect of introducing a layer of friction that may restrict its reach. However, as most modern smartphones are enabled for 3D and AR as standard, a web-based solution enables users to launch the 3D and AR experience direct from the product page, using just their phone or tablet, making the customer journey seamless and friction-free. This type of implementation can be added to a company’s existing digital platforms without the need for website changes or redesigns.

A hand holding a smartphone

Investment

The costs associated with 3D and AR have fallen dramatically in recent years. While solutions can be scaled depending on the specific needs of a business, an app-free, web-based deployment is within reach of any budget level. An investment equivalent to a month’s salary for a mid-level employee is enough to integrate the technology into a company’s website, allowing them to get started with immersive experiences and begin to test the benefits of immersive selling.

A umbrella 3D presentation

Content creation

Creating high-quality 3D and AR content requires knowledge of best-practice guidelines or the input of a trusted technology partner, who can ensure the models created are of sufficient quality, size, and format for AR uses, while also being adaptable to other digital environments. Experts in this area can enable the creation of a strategic 3D production pipeline and produce 3D assets that represent products in the necessary fidelity. This ensures the product visualization experience is of the highest standard, showing items in their best light and enhancing the customer experience accordingly.

“We knew that 3D and AR would deliver an innovative shopping experience…The results so far have been outstanding.”

-- James Vernon, Head of Online, DFS

How to get started with 3D and AR in ecommerce

We’ve examined the benefits immersive technology offers for companies in the ecommerce space, but with reports suggesting only 1% of retailers currently employ 3D and AR technology, there is huge scope for firms to gain a competitive advantage – particularly given that 76% of people see it as a tool they desire to use in their everyday lives. In this section, we explain how firms can get started with 3D and AR with a step-by-step guide:

01

Define objectives

Start by identifying the specific goals for implementing 3D and AR. While immersive technologies have been demonstrated to reduce returns, enhance customer engagement and improve conversion rates, a clear understanding of business priorities and desired outcomes will help to optimize the integration, and enable firms to ensure their 3D and AR strategy is in line with wider business goals.

02

Choose the right 3D and AR solution

As discussed earlier in this guide, there are various types of 3D and AR solution available, ranging from the development of custom apps and ecosystems, through to using existing 3D and AR platforms. Across this range of options is an accompanying spectrum of budgetary and technical requirements.

By identifying, up front, the type of deployment that best meets their needs, resources, and objectives, companies can ensure they derive the best value for their investment and avoid unnecessary outlay.

03

Create high-quality content

To offer the best user experience possible, 3D and AR implementations need to be fluid and seamless. As such, it’s important that companies invest in producing the high-quality 3D models that form the basis for AR content. This may mean creating them in-house, where the relevant technical proficiencies exist, or working with a third-party provider.

Furthermore, all 3D and AR content should undergo rigorous testing to ensure any glitches are identified and rectified ahead of the implementation being rolled out to customers.

04

Ensure user-friendly integration

The most effective 3D and AR implementations are those that are user-friendly and seamlessly integrated into the buyer’s journey. An intuitive user interface is paramount, as is ensuring clear and simple instructions are provided wherever necessary – ideally integrated into the 3D and AR viewer, so that users are walked through the process step-by-step.

In addition, companies should ensure that their 3D and AR experience works seamlessly across different devices, to ensure that the user journey flows without disruption, meaning comprehensive user testing before rollout is a must.

05

Consider privacy requirements

Privacy and data protection are priorities for regulators and users alike. Expert technology partners can ensure that any immersive deployment is compliant with the relevant requirements for data collection, usage, and consent, giving users a sense of confidence before accessing the platform and ensuring regulatory standards are met from the outset.

06

Promote 3D and AR features

In order to get the most out of immersive technology, brands must ensure that customers are aware of the experiences offered and, in the case of reluctant or less technically proficient users, entice them into giving them a try. This means promoting 3D and AR functionality, highlighting the benefits to users, and demonstrating how they enhance the shopping experience. These efforts can be carried out via existing marketing channels, such as social media, email, or via the brand website.

07

Test, iterate and refine

With both the technology and user expectations continually advancing, it’s crucial to monitor the performance of 3D and AR experiences on an ongoing basis. Granular user data enables firms to understand consumer behavior and product interactions in greater depth than ever before, allowing them to dial in on what works best and what may need refinement. Similarly, by gathering user feedback on a continual basis, any potential improvements to the user experience can be swiftly identified and implemented, ensuring the most effective deployment of immersive technology.

bottom line

3D and AR experiences are a transformative technology for online retailers, offering a proven and effective way to boost sales, enhance the customer experience, and reduce returns. 

Consumers are leading the demand for 3D and AR implementations, with many expecting them to be offered as standard, meaning these technologies have already reshaped the world of online commerce. As such, companies who still perceive them as a novelty risk falling behind, while the accelerating adoption of immersive technologies – expected to continue to track the growth of smartphone usage – means that 3D and AR deployments are only likely to become more widespread and more integral to the online buying experience.

The good news is that advances in the technology mean it has never been easier or cheaper to get started with 3D and AR, and that there is still scope to get ahead of the curve. The companies who best identify the advantages of immersive technologies for their business, develop a clearsighted vision for their use, and move swiftly and decisively to integrate them into their operations, stand to benefit in more ways than one.

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