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The power of augmented reality in e-commerce

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Offering distinct and tangible online and offline shopping experiences will become essential for enhancing and differentiating brand value propositions.

The e-commerce industry has benefited enormously from pandemic-accelerated digitisation. According to IBM's 2020 US Retail Index assessment, Covid-19 has accelerated the shift to digital commerce by about five years. So, what exactly is causing this shift?

According to reports, emerging technologies are playing a significant role in shaping the way people experience shopping, and Augmented Reality (AR) is one of those technologies.

 

Enhancing the customer experience with AR

While e-commerce is increasing, brick-and-mortar businesses still have one crucial edge over online retailers: the ability to see and touch products. In a physical store, people can try on things, touch fabrics, and see for themselves how huge a furniture looks in a room.

While those things aren't physically doable in e-commerce, augmented reality applications offer a method to provide customers with in-depth and comprehensive information about products – all from the comfort of their own homes.

According to a 2021 report by Snap and Deloitte Digital, which polled 15000 global customers, 76 per cent use Augmented Reality (AR) as a tool and the most practical use is for online shopping. 

Last year, US retail chain Kohl partnered with Snapchat to create the Kohl's AR Virtual Closet. Customers may use smartphones and Snapchat to enter an augmented reality dressing room where Kohl's styles are featured. In addition, users may combine products and also digitally try them on. 

According to Snap, over 100 million users currently purchase using augmented reality online and in shops.

Recently, Beanburds, a UAE startup, introduced augmented reality to improve the online purchasing experience for coffee enthusiasts. Beanburds sells speciality coffee beans, coffee makers, equipment, and accessories, as well as anything else required to make the ideal brew at home. With this latest AR innovation on Beanburds.com, customers can view products in real-time, from wherever they are. In addition, a complete 3D visualisation enables shoppers to picture how products such as coffee machines might look in their homes before purchase. 

On the other hand, Converse shoes went a step further and personalised the entire notion of online shoe shopping via their AR app.

Buyers may quickly explore the brand's inventory, choose shoes and point the smartphone down at their foot. The shoe sampler superimposes the selected footwear through the screen at the user's foot, which depicts how the shoe might seem once the wearer has tried it on.

In Saudi Arabia, according to the Emerging Trends: The Forces Shaping the Future Today, a 14-market study conducted by Ipsos and Facebook IQ – the company's insights division – focusing on consumer trends and habits in emerging markets, 88 per cent of consumers have used an augmented reality feature in the past year, and 78 per cent said it is a fun way to interact with brands and 91 per cent are open to brand-led AR features.

Meanwhile, Snap has built an augmented reality technology that allows users to view several of Saudi Arabia's historical wonders through their smartphones.

 

Innovative opportunity for retailers

Returns are one of the significant challenges of the retail industry. According to reports, online customers return 15 per cent to 30 per cent of their purchases compared to 8 per cent to 10 per cent by in-store shoppers. 

According to the US National Retail Federation, consumers collectively returned products worth $428bn in 2020, which amounts to 10.6 per cent of total retail sales.

Augmented reality is one method that retailers, both online and in-store, can use to decrease returns and the expenses connected with them.

By delivering an appealing try-before-you-buy digital experience, augmented reality can help online businesses drastically minimise returns. Through a virtual 3D presentation, augmented reality allows buyers to visualise the look of products by giving the shoppers a sense of satisfaction before purchasing. 

Since they can also judge specifications like product sizes, shapes, and colours, this, in turn, decreases returns on online purchases and leads to a drop in cart abandonment rates.

Meanwhile, retailers can bridge the gap between in-store and online buying by making it simpler to portray items and providing the buyer with a better grasp of the purchasing objects. It also helps increase customer engagement and reach new customers.

As the trend toward online shopping continues, augmented reality offers excellent potential for merchants to connect customers, promote their items, gain a competitive advantage, and boost sales. 

The product launched, advanced product visualisation capabilities and in-depth product storytelling are ways augmented reality will transform the retail sector and help retailers thrive at this challenging time. 

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