Augmented Reality sounds like something you may only hear about in a science fiction movie. But it’s here. And it’s going to be big for online retailers. A huge player in this is Apple. They’re set to announce the update to their operating system for iPhones and iPads to iOS 11 this week.
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Maybe at first glance that news doesn’t seem particularly relevant or interesting for ecommerce retailers. But this is changed by the fact that the Apple update comes built-in with Augmented Reality. This makes it very relevant to ecommerce retailers. And so in this post we’ll go through what Augmented Reality (AR) is, why it’s important for online retailers and the process of building an Augmented Reality app for your own brand. If you’re already clued up with AR and want to skip to the part about building your own app then click here to do so. Otherwise, read on…
What exactly is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Augmented Reality (not to be confused with Virtual Reality or Artificial Intelligence) is where a person’s view of the real world is altered by having a computer-generated image superimposed on top of it. When it comes to Apple’s iOS update, you can do this by using the device’s camera. Just point it at something and you’ll be able to layer virtual images on top. A well-known example of AR is the Pokemon Go craze back in 2016. This saw people walking around and using their phones to see Pokemon in the real world. AR itself isn’t a new concept and has been around for a few years. In the past, a user had to print off a ‘tracking symbol’ to point their phone at. The technology was there, but few people wanted to spend time bothering with these tracking symbols. So the barrier to using it was pretty high. But Apple’s update is effectively bringing instant AR - no tracking printouts needed. This opens the door for ecommerce brands to take wide-scale advantage.
How can ecommerce brands use AR?
Buying online has become more and more popular over the past few years. But it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of total retail sales still come from in-store purchases. While there’s no one reason for this, it indicates that consumers value being able to see and experience a product before they buy. More easily accessible Augmented Reality means ecommerce brands can now provide this to people online. Imagine the power of someone being able to see your piece of furniture in their living room before placing an order. Or what your clothing looks like on them before buying. IKEA have been a big user of AR for a few years now. But check out the video below to see how they’re taking advantage of the new Apple update:
Our CEO here at Veeqo, Matt, actually developed his own Augmented Reality web app back in 2010 for his previous business, Jura Watches. The need for a tracking printout on your wrist meant it wasn’t as easily accessible as what it could be now. But 3,000 people used the app and it turned out to have better buying conversions than any other source of traffic to the site.
How ecommerce brands can start building an Augmented Reality app of their own
We may marvel at the innovation behind IKEA’s AR app. But this isn’t something reserved only for huge companies like them. Ecommerce brands of all sizes can take advantage. Having said that, you’re probably not going to be able to knock a high quality one of these up yourself over a weekend. Unless you have amazing in-house designers and developers, it will require some investment. But increasing that conversion rate of browsers to buyers could make the investment well worthwhile. So let’s look at the three steps you’ll need to take to create your app:
Step one: Create 3D product graphics
Creating this app is about showcasing your products. The only problem is that you probably only have two ways of doing this right now - a 2D image or the real thing. The first step then is to get your products turned into 3D graphics. These can then be used in the final app for when users move, place, scale and alter your virtual product to fit the image on their screen. Creating quality 3D graphics takes a high level of skill though. It can be done in just a few days, but you’ll need to hire someone else to do it. There are numerous places you can go to find someone. But a search on PeoplePerHour.com can bring up some highly capable candidates for a range of budgets. You’ll just need to supply them with high resolution images from all angles of whichever product(s) you want to include in your app. Or even send them the product if possible!
Step two: Design your app interface
Once you have the 3D images of all your products ready, you can now move on to designing the framework of the app itself. Your app doesn’t need to be overly complex. The main view will most likely be a camera that the user can drop your 3D product images onto. But you will need a basic interface. This dictates how someone can choose an object (one of your products) and what they can do with it. Again, you’re most likely not an expert in this yourself. So getting someone on your team or hiring a freelancer is probably your best bet.
Step three: Develop with ARKit
This is where the Apple magic really comes in. Their new ARKit app basically allows you to merge the 3D images we’ve created in step one into the app interface created in step two. Take a look at how Tesla enthusiast Jelmer Verhoog used ARKit to have a virtual Tesla car appear on his driveway: https://twitter.com/JelmerVerhoog/status/881237798623293440 ARKit is designed to be ‘user-friendly’. But it may be worthwhile investing in a freelance iOS developer once more to ensure your 3D images and app are integrated properly. So a little investment is needed in these three steps. But having your very own AR app could be well worth it. Huge brands like IKEA wouldn’t be hitting this so hard if they didn’t believe in it. Have you thought about building an Augmented Reality app for your ecommerce business? Let us know what you have to say on this in the comments below.