‍Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offer merchants unique opportunities to enhance the CX & transform the way we shop. But what’s the difference? How is each used in eCommerce? And where do reviews and UGC fit into the mix? That’s exactly what we explore here, as we take a look at the evolving world of online retail.
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Ecommerce has come a long way since the days of static web pages and pixelated product images - but it still has a way to go to match the in-store experience. AR and VR are two technologies stepping up to the plate, helping bridge the gap between digital and physical interactions. 

While the two terms are often used interchangeably they actually have quite different applications, so let’s start with a basic definition of each one.

AR vs. VR: What’s the Difference?

Simply put, AR technology overlays digital elements onto real world environments, allowing the user to place virtual objects in their physical surroundings (it’s the tech that powered the hugely popular Pokemon GO). It’s widely accessible, because it can be experienced through smartphones and tablets.

Pokemon GO peaked at 232 million active players in the year of its debut in 2016

VR on the other hand uses virtual reality headsets or other VR devices to place the user inside a completely artificial environment. It transports them into a computer-generated world, blocking out physical surroundings to provide a fully immersive experience.

So to compare the two in basic terms - AR sits on top of the real world, while VR creates a new world entirely. 

How Can AR and VR Enhance the Shopping Experience?

So how are these technologies being applied in the world of eCommerce, and what do these applications translate to in terms of customer experience?

Here’s a look at some current use cases and the value they offer:

AR Application: Virtual Try-On

Virtual Try-On (VTO) technology is exactly what it sounds like. It allows a customer to overlay a virtual product onto a live camera feed of themselves using just their smartphone. This means they can see what it looks like without having to visit an actual store. It’s an application that works particularly well for things like cosmetics, eyewear and accessories.

Farfetch and other brands, such as Prada, have partnered with Snapchat to introduce virtual try-ons.

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Reduces the need to visit physical stores, making shopping more convenient.
  • Allows customers to confidently experiment with different looks and styles before making a purchase.
  • Enhances engagement and interactivity, creating a more enjoyable shopping experience.

AR Application: Product Visualization

This is where a customer is able to ‘place’ a digital product in their actual surroundings, again using nothing but their smartphone. So for example, they can position an item of furniture in their living room to see how it fits in the space, and how well it matches their existing decor. It’s also a good use case for things like furnishings, home improvement products and artwork.

IKEA's commitment to accessible design shines through their innovative AR app.

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Enables customers to make informed purchase decisions by visualizing products in their own space.
  • Reduces the likelihood of returns by giving customers a realistic sense of the product's size and appearance.
  • Improves customer satisfaction by ensuring products align with their existing environment and style.

AR Application: Interactive Product Manuals

AR can also be applied post-purchase, used to generate support materials. By pointing a smart device at a specific marker or QR code on a product, customers can access interactive instructions, videos and/or animations on how to set that product up, how to use it properly, and how to deal with any issues they might encounter.

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Simplifies product setup and usage, leading to fewer customer frustrations and support inquiries.
  • Enhances customer self-service capabilities, empowering them to troubleshoot and solve issues independently.
  • Provides a more engaging and interactive learning experience for customers compared to traditional manuals.

VR Application: Virtual Shopping Spaces

Using VR technology, merchants and retailers can create immersive 3D environments that mimic the in-store experience. WIth the use of a VR headset, customers can browse, interact with products, and make purchases in a simulated retail environment from the comfort of their own home. 

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Offers a more immersive and engaging shopping experience than traditional eCommerce.
  • Eliminates geographical barriers, allowing customers to access global retailers and unique products.
  • Reduces time and effort spent in physical stores, making shopping more efficient.

VR Application: Digital Product Demonstrations  

this application is best suited to big-ticket purchases, where images and videos aren’t quite enough to convey the full value. For example, with home gym equipment or high-end consumer electronics, customers can experience an ‘in-person’ product demonstration as if they were physically present.

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Helps customers better understand complex products, leading to more confident purchasing decisions.
  • Provides a personalized and interactive demonstration, replicating the in-store experience.
  • Reduces hesitation in making high-value purchases, increasing conversion rates.

VR Application: Virtual Showrooms & Events

virtual events are a great way to extend brand reach, allowing retailers to hold things like exhibitions and product launches on a global scale, without the need for physical gatherings. Again, with the use of a VR headset, customers and brand enthusiasts can attend these events from the comfort of their sofa. 

How does it improve the customer experience?

  • Expands brand reach and accessibility, attracting a global audience with no physical limitations.
  • Enables customers to participate in product launches and events from anywhere, increasing inclusivity.
  • Creates a memorable and novel experience, leaving a positive impression of the brand.

It’s true to say that, in most cases, it's the big players that have rolled out these technologies to date. Take the ‘IKEA Place’ and ‘Wayfair Spaces’ apps, Nike's Virtual Sneaker Try-On, and Audi’s VR showroom experiences.

These major companies have been at the forefront of integrating AR and VR into their eCommerce strategies. But as the technology becomes more accessible, the benefits become more evident, and customers begin to demand more engaging experiences, we can expect to see much higher adoption rates across eCommerce as a whole.

AR Stats

But here’s the thing - as engaging as AR and VR can be, they’re not enough on their own to convince consumers to buy. 

No matter how immersive the shopping experience, brands will still need to maintain their reputation and drive trust - which means companies like us need to develop ways to integrate reviews and UGC into AR and VR applications. 

How Can Reviews & UGC Enhance AR and VR Technologies?

Now, we can’t say for sure how reviews and UGC will be incorporated into AR and VR (that’s the beauty of technological advancement - it’s full of surprises!), but we can make some predictions.

One prediction is that customer reviews will become even more important in the purchase process, as they add a layer of authenticity that a computer generated experience lacks on its own. 

As for how they’ll appear in these environments, here’s a few experimental ideas:

Review snippet pop-ups: when customers interact with digital products through an AR app, that interaction could trigger pop-ups containing key review metrics, star ratings, and possibly even review nuggets that add social proof to virtual product discovery.

AR product comparisons: if a customer is torn between two or more products that they've played around with through AR, quick access to additional information can keep them engaged in the purchase. In this scenario, they’d be able to place those products side by side and see aggregate review scores for each one.

Virtual shopping assistants: this solution would combine AR/VR with the power of AI. The latter would be used to make personalized product recommendations based on browsing behavior and review data as the customer experiments with products in their physical surroundings, or explores a virtual store. 

Voice activated reviews: when customers are immersed in a virtual shopping environment, this would offer a hands-free way to access trust signals. By voicing a request, the customer could trigger audio reviews and star ratings for specific products.

Virtual UGC galleries: again, within the VR shopping environment, a virtual gallery space could be created that shows persuasive UGC. When a customer approaches an item, relevant photo or video reviews could be displayed, showcasing the real-world product experience next to the virtual one. 

Adapt to Future Trends with REVIEWS.io

OK, so we know some of these ideas sound a little bit futuristic, but as a tech company it’s important for us to stay ahead of the game and consider how our product can adapt to the ever changing landscape (and how it can continue to add value to our customers).

It’s how we’ve been able to adopt AI so quickly, enhancing our product with tools that facilitate smarter review strategies.    

However AR and VR end up shaping eCommerce, we’ll be rolling out innovative features to integrate reviews and UGC - so you can maintain trust and authenticity in these new immersive shopping experiences.  

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