The future of online shopping: Adopting AR and VR technology in retail

The future of online shopping: Adopting AR and VR technology in retail

In 2021, 70 percent of Canadian consumers planned to do most of their Black Friday shopping online. More interestingly, the number of consumers planning to shop online on mobile phones had tripled since 2019, different from 2020, when they preferred in-store shopping for their Black Friday needs. 

As we continue to live in a post-pandemic world, these numbers immediately make sense to me; however, I had a hard time thinking of a successful Black Friday without crowds of people lining up outside of stores and dramatically emptied-out aisles. 

The psychology behind what drives in store shopping

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) study of consumer psychology lists three aspects of “old-school” Black Friday techniques that explain why this cultural phenomenon continues to bring good business: Doorbusters, or amazing bargain deals, Scarcity Management, when retailers offer a limited number of units and thus making them more desirable, and Browsing, when a shopper goes from passive to active simply by being in a store. 

As a self-proclaimed “bargain-hunter” and a professional marketer, the idea of how browsing can make me feel and think became exciting. As humans, we feel victorious when we discover something, a deal or just a unique product we did not have in mind when we came into the store. These “smart shopping feelings” are amplified by the ability to see, touch and try out things only possible in a brick-and-mortar environment. But what about online retailers? How can they experience sustainable growth while leveraging these behavioural trends? 

How online retailers can convert passive shoppers into active buyers online

The key to increasing engagement during competitive retail events such as Black Friday is focusing on the shopper experience you need to offer. Research shows an interwoven journey is relevant to your target consumer and, in this case, is all about the overall experience and the capabilities within it. 

Innovative digital technology, such as 3D visualization, has now made it possible for online stores to compete with brick-and-mortar to enhance a shopper’s personalized experience and leverage an agile solution that orchestrates the consumer journey from digital to physical back again.

How to incorporate 3D technology into your retail experience

Selecting the right set of technologies for implementing 3D products in an e-commerce platform is crucial. It should be based on how you want the models to look and the level of expected user interaction. We’ve begun to see the rise in numerous retail industries, including beauty, auto, and architecture. 

Shopping is all about confidence. Millennial shoppers value confidence and knowledge the most, depending on ratings and reviews, to make informed decisions. And, because over a third of Canadian online shoppers were Millennials, according to data from an April 2021 survey, as retailers, it is crucial to improve buyers’ certainty that they will use—and like!—the product they have their eyes on. 3D technologies give consumers the closest-to-real experience without the need to be in-person.

3D technologies that are revolutionizing the e-commerce industry

Here are some 3D technologies that you can integrate into your online store to help you stay ahead of the game:

Augmented reality (AR) in e-commerce

During the pandemic, online shopping became the go-to way for buying things, registering $900 billion more online in 2020 globally compared to the previous two years (I can confidently say my money also contributed to that number!). And although shopping from the comfort of your own home is convenient, the potential risk of going through an arduous return process or spending money on something that didn’t fit or didn’t look as advertised can stop shoppers from clicking the purchase button more than once. 

With Immersive shopping, users can leverage AR to get as close to the product specs and fit as they would in a brick-and-mortar store. Plus, users are more likely to stay engaged with a retailer’s website thanks to an improved and immersive experience.

3D model embedding in e-commerce

More than half the time, the option to personalize an item comes with a premium attached. And more than that, it also implies required technical knowledge or brand familiarity. 3D visualization eliminates those uncertainties and promotes a feeling of autonomy and authenticity that can positively influence the shopping experience. By improving how seamless personalization can be on your website, users can opt for more profitable versions because the experience is easy, increasing conversion rates on customized products and price premiums over standard products. 

3D embedding can also derisk in-store supply chain issues where products are available online but not physically in stock—ultimately interrupting the purchase journey. With 3D technology, businesses can increase profits because users are now more confident about pre-ordering thanks to high-quality product rendering of all models, colours and configurations available 24/7. This process optimizes the supply-chain cost by shipping items only when there’s a purchase order and provides more transparency in estimated delivery times for the consumer.

Virtual reality (VR) immersive product views

Think about how stressful it can be to buy a car or a house. Researching and putting significant amounts of money down can be terrifying and can delay the process, let alone having to go in person and absorb lots of information while walking through an open house or dealership. What if you could collect the same amount of insight with all the benefits of being at home? 

Immersive 3D, like AR or VR technologies, gives potential buyers the power and accessibility to navigate a virtual room they created by playing with easy-to-use design features and testing if the expensive wood floors they want will work with the layout. This technology promotes purchase confidence thanks to its immediate feedback instead of a collection of reviews, personalization and versatility. As a business, it can help you manage client expectations, align with their goals and fix problems before they occur, like the likelihood of a return and inaccurate quotations.  

Why personalized shopping matters: Mr. Sk8er

The team at TTT Studios conducted a series of exploratory interviews to learn more about the skateboarding market and consumer journeys as part of a user interface (UI) app concept project. 

The team discovered that most skateboarders start by wanting to learn "the cool tricks." A beginner would most likely have to purchase a skateboard already built for learning; already-made skateboards are often limited to the basics and not valid for advanced tricks. There was, however, an opportunity for new skateboarders to design their board, but they would have to learn technical features they may still need to become familiar with. Research insights also found that the skateboard is a statement of someone's personality, so the design needed to be functional and customizable. 

Imagine buying your first skateboard. You have two options: buy a generic beginner skateboard at the supermarket, but the design is plain, and the wheels don't roll well. Yes, it's affordable, and everyone says it's easy to learn how to do a kickflip on it but that you'll grow out of it after the first week. So, you turn to the next option, building your own. And oh my, it's a rabbit hole you didn't know existed.

The design is easy because you see something, and it just calls to your soul, but the technicalities are entirely different. You need to consider what deck size is better for you; if it's too wide, you won't be able to jump; if it's too thin, you'll have trouble learning because it'll be too unstable. Then the trucks. Do you want them hollow and light or full and heavy? 

As a beginner, you want something that rolls nicely, but you have to choose between bearings with different ABEC numbers. There are many factors to consider when customizing a board to your liking. If you buy some of these pieces wrong, they won't fit when you put them together. It's easy for the purchase process to become overwhelming or for a beginner to leave this for another day or maybe never.

Our UI concept, Mr. Sk8er, is designed for a beginner. We have tooltips that help them figure out the width of the skate, what ABEC means, and what wheels they might want depending on where they'll use their skate. The UI application guides users by showing them filtered components that fit the configuration they are building. So with most of the technicalities out of the way, it's more a matter of personal style. The 3D aspect of the application only intensifies the immersive experience for the user, and it also helps skaters get extra hyped for their purchase as they bring it to life. 

The business value of extending immersive technology into retail

Today, more than ever, consumers’ behaviours are evolving and adapting faster; therefore, businesses must stand at the forefront of new technologies to place themselves ahead of the competition. And with many available digital solutions today, it is crucial to discover your business’ vision and value proposition and define what consumer experience you should offer to satisfy your ideal audiences. Only after that process can a company determine what e-commerce investments it would need to make and what those applications will look like. Thankfully, digital consulting and development firms have been studying and improving these technologies, resulting in many best practices that have already registered positive results.