E-Commerce & WebAR

The holodeck for online shopping

May 14, 2022

Remember when the internet was young? Back in the 90s, people used modems that made funny sounds when logging on. Connections often did not work, and when they did, they were so slow that you could barely load a newspaper page. To call this virtual reality seemed a bit of a stretch.

AR moves the internet into the real world

But the virtual is getting more real continuously. Augmented Reality (AR) for online shopping is a case in point. It keeps creating real use cases that generate real profits. Not just for internet giants like Amazon and Google, but for everyone who is selling online.

What AR does, said Ori Inbar, a venture capital investor in Augmented Reality, during a talk at the Columbia Business School, is “moving the internet off screens and into the real world.” This makes it easier for consumers to buy online.

No special app or gear is needed

AR technology is now so mature that you don’t need to be a venture capitalist to make it work for you.

With the right partner, every online store can bring 3D images of any object, for instance products from the web store, into the real environment as seen through the camera app on the user’s smartphone.  

This enables the customer to try out virtual products before deciding to buy the real thing. For instance, the user can take a look if a poster from the web store would look good on his wall, if this lamp would really be nice on her desk, or what the sofa would look like from the other side if you virtually placed it in front of the window.

“Shoppers are 11 times more likely to buy when they try AR-services at home”

This means that the customer’s phone now functions as a holodeck for the web store’s products.

“The user can reposition the virtual object at will, change its size, turn it around, look at it from all sides – and order it with one click through the camera app”, says Michael Keppe, partner at Impala.

Pre-experiencing the product

This virtual “hands on” approach makes a big difference. 61 per cent of consumers say they prefer retailers with AR experience. 71 per cent state that they shop more often when using AR, while 40 per cent of consumers say they are willing to pay more for a product that they can customize in AR.

The most direct approach to use this technology is web based AR. Its key advantage is that the end user does not need a special app, let alone dedicated gear. All the user needs is a browser and a smartphone. Scanning a code from the browser window will place the virtual object in the real environment on the phone’s display.

“For the customer”, says Keppe, “this is so easy that your granny can do it.”

Digital Twins

The decisive step to move the content from the online store off the screen and into the real world is to create digital twins – 3D models – of the products in question.

“All we need to do this is a set of photos”, says Ekaterina Glushinskaya, 3D Production Manager at Impala’s 3D team. “These don’t need to be artfully crafted product shots. In many cases, photos taken with a smartphone camera are sufficient to produce a 3D model.”

The next step is to turn such 3D models into WebAR codes. Once Ekaterina and her team did this, the codes can be easily integrated into the web store in question so customers can beam the digital twins into their apartment.

11 times more likely to buy

This goes a long way to solve a key problem for online shopping: Enabling the customer to get “in touch” with the product before making a decision.

The result of giving the customer this option is remarkable. Shoppers are “11 times more likely to buy” when they try AR-services at home, according to Sally Huang, director of visual technologies at Houzz, a leading platform for home design in Palo Alto, California.

Lowering the threshold for purchases

This is what one would expect: Enabling customers to try out a virtual product in their own home lowers the threshold to make a purchase.

This is why Impala Services works to lower the threshold for its clients to integrate WebAR into their online stores. In order to do so, it offers customs made services from start to finish – from creating the first 3D models to implementing the solutions that will get that digital twin onto the customer’s sofa.