The role of augmented reality in retail and ecommerce

The business landscape has never been more dynamic since the advent of smartphones. With a whopping number of users, the coveted mobile device is changing consumer behavior rapidly with every upgrade.

The eCommerce scene has likewise seen dramatic shifts in recent years. More than half of the traffic for online shopping is traced back to mobile users. By 2021, mobile eCommerce is expected to hold 72.9% of the share in the arena.

As more and more consumers turn to mobile phones, marketers are tasked to provide a seamless flow from start to finish. Developers are adopting a mobile-first approach to enhance user experience and reaping the results that come thereafter.

From simplifying navigation menus to crafting mobile-friendly displays, there’s a lot to explore to meet your consumers’ demands and improve conversion rates. But perhaps the most exciting development in the field is in the realm of augmented reality.

This innovation brings customers closer to products, thus closer to purchases, while staying behind their screens.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a form of interactive technology that superimposes digital information onto the real world. Such information can be text, sound, images, and three-dimensional objects — all of which are meant to improve how we experience products and content relevant to it.

Although the concept of AR sounds futuristic, the technology has been around for some time. Augmented reality dates back to the 60s in the form of a head-mounted display called ‘The Sword of Damocles’.

In 1968, a Harvard professor and computer scientist named Ivan Sutherland created a gear that allowed users to experience computer-generated graphics. Similar projects emerged since then, but it wasn’t until 1990 did the term ‘augmented reality’ come to being.

AR is often confused or used interchangeably with virtual reality, but the two are not the same. The difference is AR technology only adds certain elements to an ordinary backdrop, whereas VR creates a full computer-generated environment for users to interact with.

In other words, AR is meant to enhance the ordinary world while VR is made to create an entirely new setting.

Applications of AR Technology

AR Technology

One of the most notable applications of AR includes NASA’s hybrid synthetic vision system for the X-38 spacecraft. Using AR technology, pilots see map data right on their screens which granted better navigation during test flights.

Meanwhile, sports broadcasts make use of AR by overlaying visuals onto the court or field. By inserting yellow yard markers, trajectory lines, virtual trackers, and ads, viewers an even more unique on-screen experience.

This was first introduced by Sportvision in 1998 on a live NFL game which they enhanced through the 1st & 10 graphics system. It didn’t take long for AR to reach other sports, paving the way for the company to capture clients like the NBA, NHL, MLB, and more.

In the automotive industry, Volkswagen pioneered leveraging AR technology by creating the Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance (MARTA) app. MARTA serves as a step-by-step guide for repairs and alterations, an idea that was later applied to other industries to help streamline processes.

Google seized this opportunity and launched Google Glass in 2014. The wearable AR device proved itself useful in medicine, cognitive therapy, and media coverage. Two years later, Microsoft released their take of the technology in the form of Microsoft HoloLens.

Today, AR is used more frequently by the masses than you’d think. The popular game ‘Pokémon Go’ is made possible through AR technology, so are the filters on Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram.

The Role of Augmented Reality in Retail

AR in Retail

In 2017, IKEA released IKEA Place, an app that allows customers to virtually preview products in their homes. Decor options appear true-to-scale thereby helping customers make informed decisions on every purchase.

This revolutionized the retail industry forever.

While online shopping is convenient, there is an obvious gap between consumers and products that creates friction inside the sales funnel.

People want to make sure they get their money’s worth. This means knowing how an item looks in their hands, inspecting fine details, and making sure it’s the perfect fit. Not being able to do any of these physically make customers hesitant to checkout.

With AR, you bridge these gaps and make online shopping interactive and memorable.

Major platforms already support augmented reality including WordPress, Shopify, Magento, and Woocommerce.

Augmented Reality Technologies for Product Visualization

AR for product visualization

There are two major AR technologies used in eCommerce. Depending on the nature of your business, you can choose either of the following or combine utilizing these technologies to your advantage.

Marker-Based Augmented Reality

This technology is supported by a variety of devices and is the simplest to implement and produce. It makes use of natural feature tracking which recognizes distinctive images or objects as markers to trigger a response.

When such markers are identified, additional content such as text, animations, images, and sounds are overlaid on real-world objects. Marker-based AR can also redirect users to landing pages or videos as when scanning QR codes or logos.

Markerless Augmented Reality

Markerless AR does not require visual markers to produce results. Users are free to visualize products almost anywhere and interact more with the virtual projections. However, it can only be run on select devices and is more difficult to develop.

Markerless AR can place detailed 3D objects onto an active environment. It is the backbone of IKEA Place and all the filters on social media.

Pros and Cons of Using AR for Product Visualization

The key to closing sales is building your consumers’ confidence in your brand and products. Establishing that trust is especially difficult in eCommerce because customers don’t have the luxury of reviewing items in person.

This is why augmented reality is a gamechanger.

Product visualization through AR gives consumers the closest possible feel of items without visiting a physical store. They get the chance to explore their options in-depth, compare products more effectively, and even see how these look on their bodies or living spaces.

Empowering customers with this level of control improves their overall shopping experience. In turn, you enjoy higher conversion rates and sales.

Of course, there are a couple of things you have to consider before diving into AR.

Many augmented reality applications are based on open-source architecture. This framework lets anyone inspect, modify, and enhance the software’s source code. In other words, people can freely custoimize how an app or program works.

The biggest concerns that arise from this are security breaches and privacy threats. Since anyone on the internet has access to the source code, such AR apps are more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Additionally, AR technology comes at a high price. The intricacies involved in developing AR-based applications require high-level skills so you should expect more expensive professional fees.


AR has its fair share of drawbacks and advantages. However, the resounding consensus is using AR for product visualization is a good investment, especially when implemented correctly.

In a time when most of our every day is spent on the web, it’s no longer just an option to provide excellent service on online channels. Seamless and empowering experiences are a must to drive conversions and nurture customer relationships.

Revisit your marketing plan and see how AR can improve your sales funnel. Visualize how you would want your products to be presented and let your developers do the rest. Trust us, you won’t regret it

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