3D and AR
How VR in e-commerce is transforming the way we shop online
3D and AR

How VR in e-commerce is transforming the way we shop online

Written by

Vickie Scullard


April 26, 2023

Table of contents

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Not too long ago, virtual reality was a concept of a future world depicted in 90s movies such as Hackers and The Matrix. Fast forward to today and VR is a very real element in many key areas of our lives, such as healthcare and aviation, and more recently, e-commerce.

First of all, let’s distinguish the difference between AR and VR. Unlike augmented reality (AR), which brings computer-generated objects to customers’ own reality, VR allows the user to enter a 3D world where they can view and interact with objects in a computer-generated environment.  

Because of this, it is no surprise that e-commerce is high on the list of industries that are keen to utilize its potential. From 3D shop experiences with virtual shop assistants, personalized avatars, and virtual dressing rooms, the opportunities for VR in e-commerce are abundant – if used correctly.

Key takeaways

  • Reduce product returns and increase sales through informed purchasing decisions
  • The importance of identifying the right products for VR visualization
  • Research suggests that products marketed with AR/VR content have a 94% higher conversion rate than those without AR/VR content


Definition of VR in e-commerce

Before the 2020 pandemic, VR still had an element of sci-fi mystery about it and was only becoming more widely used in households due to video gaming, allowing players to immerse themselves in a world away from their own.  

VR in e-commerce was still depicted as a mark of prestige that you might experience in a luxury car showroom or a flight simulator school for trainee pilots. But today, many high street retailers are offering an element of virtual reality in their customer’s shopping journey.

The acceleration of VR use in our everyday lives is affecting how we shop. According to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, around a third of us have used a VR channel in the last six months. Half used VR for entertainment, but crucially, 32% went on to buy products after seeing them advertised on VR platforms. This trend will only increase as technology improves.

A brief history of VR in e-commerce

While many think that VR is a relatively new technology, it has actually been around for decades. In 1968, Ivan Sutherland created the Sword of Damocles – considered by many to be the first head-mounted display system for use in immersive simulation applications.  

In the 1970s and into the 1990s, VR devices were developed for medical use, flight simulation, automobile industry design, and military training.

Since the pandemic, VR and AR – and mixed reality, the use of both – are becoming more mainstream in e-commerce.

Advantages and disadvantages of VR in e-commerce

The pros of well-placed VR speak for themselves and could help to tackle the challenges outlined above. A virtual ‘try before you buy’ experience using an avatar created in your form is as close as real as you can get.

But there are cons to the technology, the main one being its cost. Small to medium businesses are simply not going to be able to compete with big brands such as Ikea, which launched its hotly anticipated Place app in 2017. The furniture store has already made waves with its mixed-reality apps, which combine both AR and VR.

Additional concerns over the effect that VR has on health in the long term are real. Nobody knows exactly how it will affect users, specifically when it comes to mental health, such as stress, anxiety, and addiction.

4 benefits of VR in B2C e-commerce

Enhanced customer experience

According to Forbes, common challenges that new e-commerce businesses face include increasing online store visits and cart abandonment – potential customers who decide against purchasing the items they have put in their virtual shopping basket, which is as high as 70% of visitors to the site. Then there is the added problem of product returns.  

The impact of the points above could be lessened by using VR in e-commerce, which would allow customers to not only know for sure that they want the items in their shopping cart, but the attraction of this 3D world will likely mean retention and brand loyalty is higher. Additionally, happy customers lead to minimized returns.

Increased customer engagement and satisfaction

These days businesses need more than just words and static images to keep their customers interested in their products. Moving images, video, and all-important customization help to create an immersive experience that keeps them entertained and attentive. The use of 3D VR, AR, and mixed reality will hit all those notes perfectly, allowing the customer to know exactly what they are buying.

Reduced product returns and increased sales through informed purchasing decisions

According to Shopify, retailers’ investment in 3D and AR technology has paid dividends:

  • Return rate reduced by 5%
  • Cart conversion rate increased by 3%
  • Order conversion rate increased by 40%  

If the customer knows exactly what they are buying, satisfaction goes up, and the rate of product returns will go down. Returns are part and parcel of selling products –not everyone is 100% happy all the time. But orders from customers who purchase items and change their minds when they try them on or see them in their space in their home will be fewer because, thanks to VR, they will have seen how the clothes look on their customized avatar, or seen how the furniture looks in their home.

Improved brand image and customer loyalty

Happy customers lead to returning customers – especially if the online shopping experience is exciting and immersive. The more reasons you give a customer to buy from your website while minimizing returns, the higher the completed sales will be. Customer loyalty is more than just liking a brand or item – it’s about trust and delivering exactly what is promised – something that VR in e-commerce will significantly improve.

Best practices for integrating VR in B2C e-commerce

Identifying the right products for VR visualization

Not all products across all sectors will be perfect to showcase using VR. Items such as clothes and cars – where the item itself is most important – are perfect for VR visualization because they allow the customer to see the item in 3D so that all angles are covered.  

Items such as household goods – where you want to see how they will fit in your space – are better to visualize using AR, so that the customer can ditch the tape measure and see them in the space that they will occupy.

Choosing the right VR technology and development partner

Not all VR technology is the same. Choosing the right technology for your company could be the difference between success and failure. The main thing to remember is for B2C, the technology should be simple yet offer the “wow” factor.

Car dealerships, for example, should focus on a virtual showroom that allows the customer to browse the entire collection of cars available to buy. Not only that, but they must also be able to interact with the cars and change their color and specification with just a click of a button.  

A great example of VR in e-commerce is the car brand, Kia. Their virtual showroom allows customers to browse car models in a virtual environment, looking at the exterior and interior in detail so they can choose their ideal car easier.

Retail shops should choose technology that is heavily customizable so that the user can create themselves in virtual form using the right measurements so that trying on items will mirror the reality of a physical changing room.

Measuring impact of VR on customer engagement and sales

This is not something that will happen overnight and will require time and data to achieve a true picture of how VR in e-commerce is helping customer engagement and sales.  

However, according to a study by G2, products marketed with AR/VR content have a 94% higher conversion rate than those without AR/VR content

Additionally, a good social media marketing campaign will boost engagement with your brand, especially with Millennials and Gen Z who are more likely to share their world online. One thing is for sure, happy customers who feel they are getting a good service enhanced by immersive technology will not only build a bond with your brand, but they will likely tell their family, friends, and social media followers.

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