Hand holding a smartphone and using AR to look at an office chair
PHOTO: Adobe Stock

Augmented reality (AR) has a tremendous ability to educate consumers and enable them to better evaluate products from the comfort of their own homes.

The three main uses of AR loosely correspond to a customer’s journey from awareness to interest and consideration — education, entertainment and product evaluation — although they may not be mutually exclusive.

A successful AR strategy leads to a higher conversion rate, higher average cart size and fewer returns, so it’s important to focus on these three categories when designing an AR experience.

The experience also needs to be easy and fun, otherwise, consumers won’t spend time in an AR world.

AR Can Educate Consumers

All of these capabilities contribute to a consumer’s understanding of the product, going back to the first main use case for AR: product education.

Augmented reality allows consumers to see a product from every angle and true-to-size in their environment, so they have a much better understanding of the product.

“Certain AR platforms,” explained Ashley Crowder, co-founder and CEO of VNTANA, “also allow businesses to add hot spots with text, images or videos that are tagged to specific parts of the 3D model to highlight special features or explain how things work. In turn, consumers are more confident in what they are buying when they are buying it.”

She pointed out that one of the company’s clients, clothing retailer Staud, saw return rates drop 67% when they used 3D and AR for a purse on their ecommerce website.

Will McDonald, senior director of VR and AR at Unity, explained that AR has the potential for acting as one of the great unlocks to education over the next decade.

“Much like how the internet brought information from the widest reaches of the world together and accessible,” he said, “AR stands to overlay our world with contextual data at the right time and at the right place.”

He pointed to the emergence of technologies from companies such as Niantic and Google around Visual Position Systems (VPS) that leverage the power of spatial data collected over time to allow developers to build AR experiences that are contextually aware of the world around a given user.

“This is particularly exciting in the world of education, as it opens the door to use cases where someone wearing a headset or looking through their mobile device camera can look at a landmark, building, mountain, etc. and be presented with a rich set of information about it,” he said.

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AR Has Manifold Entertainment Applications

McDonald said he sees a variety of AR use cases relating to entertainment: One way to look at it is to split the use cases into a few buckets: experiences, user-generated content and tooling in service of other entertainment mediums.

“Use cases for AR continue to expand,” he said, “however it is important to note that gaming still represents the majority of the use cases for AR today, and much of what we've learned about AR standards and techniques were born out of games.”

On the user-generated content side, lowering the barrier of entry for people who want to be creative has made incredible progress over the last few years.

“A great example is what companies such as Snap, Instagram and TikTok have done around AR lenses which allows their users to easily create AR experiences and share them on their platforms,” he said.

McDonald explained that providing a great user experience is critical in building productions around user-generated content, particularly when your audience is often not technical.

“We believe that we're going to continue to see a lot of exciting products emerge in the AR space and the content creation space in general that unlock the creativity of millions of future creators,” he said.

Crowder pointed out that AR does not have to serve an entertaining function; it can be purely educational, but it needs to be easy to use.

“UX design is incredibly important to ensure it’s an easy, seamless experience for consumers,” she said. “AR can always create moments of delight, because anything is possible — butterfly wings, glitter explosions, animations showing how a product can operate. It’s only limited by your creativity.”

AR Offers Opportunities for Product Evaluation

When it comes to product evaluation, Crowder explained that AR allows consumers to have a better understanding of the product as they view it in their environment, giving them more confidence in their purchases.

She noted that key stakeholders in creating successful AR experiences within organizations are the ecommerce, marketing and product design teams.

“We often see ecommerce and marketing create 3D and AR in a silo, which leads to wasted resources and experiences that don’t show all the possibilities. Digital product design teams often have 3D models of products already that can be tailored to meet web, social media and game-engine standards.”

Crowder said that by working with these cross-functional teams, businesses can create incredible AR consumer experiences that scale while being cost-effective.

McDonald added that consumers ultimately want to discover and evaluate things in the context of reality, be that a moment in time or their physical environment, with the ability to change variables to understand trade-offs.

“In the AR space we've seen applications emerge that help consumers make decisions in a spatial context that helps reduce the risk of buying items only to return them because they do not work in a physical space such as a home or office,” he said.

He pointed to IKEA’s use of AR technology with their Place app, which helps customers place virtual representations of IKEA furniture within their physical rooms to evaluate the item’s size, color and positioning.

“This type of offering is something that entirely differentiates AR from what can reasonably be done otherwise, as the virtual 3D asset can also have its materials and colors changed on the fly, giving consumers choice in understanding the best purchasing decision based on their needs,” McDonald said.

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Augmented Reality for Your Brand

Augmented reality offers real value to brands committed to digital-first experiences and customer-centricity. Plan for branded AR experiences to become more common as the technology increases in affordability and reaches mainstream adoption.