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AR Takes on More Functional Role in Consumer Experience

·3 min read

Augmented reality technology was once relegated to the realm of fun and futuristic experiences for shoppers. But AR is now taking on a more critical and functional role of how consumers interact with brands and products — in a safe way.

And as product testers give way to samples in stores, AR is helping build conversions online as a virtual try-on tool.

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In a recent shopper survey by AR technology solution provider Vertebrae, 76 percent of consumers who had tried AR technology online reported that it improved their purchase confidence. While only 39 percent have currently experienced it in a shopping setting, this number is double that of 2018, and the success rate is high — 68 percent of users said they are “likely or very likely” to purchase from retailers who offer web-based AR shopping experiences.

Vince Cacace, chief executive officer at Vertebrae, said with the pandemic continuing to impact shopping behaviors, “it’s clear that consumers are hungry for online experiences that help accurately gauge how items will look in real-life context.”

“The ability to virtually try on accessories is reassuring to shoppers who don’t want to risk store visits — and who don’t want to deal with the hassle and expense of returning items ordered online that fail to meet their needs,” Cacace said.

This growing interest from consumers is being replicated by brands and retailers, as they discover the conversion potential of the technology. One of the most well-known AR companies in the world, Snap Inc., has been getting more involved in the commercial and e-commerce space, and it reports being regularly approached by companies who are looking to partner on new activations.

Selby Drummond, head of fashion at Snap, explained there has long been interest in creating these kinds of experiences, but the digitization push of 2020 has also accelerated the adoption of AR. The company regularly listens to requests from brands — and users — and uses these to inspire new projects. Once Snap has perfected its technology, it then reaches out to possible partners who can make the most of it.

“We’ll look around at the market and say, ‘Our users are really asking for shoe try-on or nail polish try-on. Are we amazing with this technology?’” Drummond said. “And once we are, then we look around and say, ‘Who are the partners that have been most excited about this and who would our users be the most excited about?’ And then we get this Venn diagram.”

Due to existing customer expectations, an AR filter must still provide entertainment value, particularly as the largest user demographic skews younger — more than half of AR shoppers are under 30 years old, according to Vertebrae. But unlike Snap’s traditional consumer-facing filters, e-commerce try-on experiences are as focused on conversion as they are on entertainment.

“Our regular lenses, they start with ‘what is going to be the most fun, the most engaging, the most creative?’” Drummond said. “We really go the extra mile in making sure that the experience, when it’s about shopping, has utility and is accurate, that it fits your body correctly and shows you what the real in-person experience would be.”

This means being able to map product accurately onto a body part or into an environment, so that shoppers can visualize the item in their real lives, which is a greater challenge than adjusting existing face filters. To that end, Snap has partnered with a number of technology companies to help build out try-on features, such as Wannaby. The company has also made an open-source platform available, to encourage greater collaboration and innovation.

Recent Snap collaborations include the Gucci and Hoka One One filters. The company has also launched its new Brand Profiles feature in beta mode, which lets select brands create a permanent home within the Snap app and offer AR Lenses, native commerce stores and content highlights.

Participating brands include Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Target.