Augmented Reality (AR). Previously among the most difficult technological concepts to explain. Today you simply refer to Pokémon. Also, AR applications are outgrowing the experimental stage in (online) sales processes.

When the real world is enriched with virtual images, you talk about Augmented Reality. A few years ago, the number of applications were still very limited. AR technologically was limited by the fact that you needed specific hard- and software. Nevertheless, since then the number of AR applications have grown steadily, for instance within museums or for training purposes.

The first commercial AR applications

Today, almost every Western consumer has an advanced smart phone with a high quality camera in his or her pocket. A number of startups have successfully used this trend to develop new and accessible commercial AR apps.

The first commercial applications have received much press attention. Think for instance about the IKEA catalogue and in-store applications of LEGO.

According to an IKEA study, 14 percent of their customers used to buy the wrong size furniture. Based on that insight, IKEA developed an AR app that included 90 of its products. Consumers were able to place the IKEA catalogue at their house in exact that position their wardrobe or bed was intended to be. Using their regular smartphone, customers were able to obtain a realistic view on the chosen piece of furniture, quickly changing colours and other variants in order to guide them through their choice.

AR in combination with magazine ads or special in-store mirrors are widely known among marketers, retail experts and other types of creatives. In the Benelux, a company like Layar (part of Blippar) is a leading player in this field.

Try before your buy

AR is increasingly being used during pure online sales processes. Web stores have different motivations to use augmented reality as a sales tool, for example:

  • fewer returns because of a more realistic picture on the product fitting the surrounding or person;
  • a fun factor that make site visitors stick longer on the site to try different combinations.

Among the leading brands currently using AR in web sales are Bang & Olufsen, SEPHORA and RayBan.

The application BeoHome Design enables consumers to configure the products of Bang & Olufsen in 3D within their own home environment. Through the app, consumers are given a realistic picture of the size, height and colour of Bang & Olufsen products within the environment they are intended in. Once satisfied, he or she is able to save the new configuration, share it with friends for their comments - or send it to the shop directly.

Similar to the IKEA application, BeoHome Design uses so-called markers. Apps like these now are also being developed without a physical point of reference. Possibly, this is eliminating one of the last barriers to mass adoption.

The German (producer of turn bars and sandboxes) is a company that sells exclusively over the internet. Through technology provided by the company Augment, has built AR directly into its web shop. All the features of a regular online product configurator (material, shape, size, design, colour, and so on) will in the near future be brought in real preview mode.

Augmented reality voorbeeld

Is AR a viable option for every business?

The most exclusive AR experience is of course also the most expensive one. A custom development solution requires great effort: specific AR technology, photorealistic 3D product models, numerous software integrations and advanced animations. Such applications obviously have a price tag that is not viable for the average SME.

More often, also industry-specific solutions are being created. The mentioned examples of SEPHORA and RayBan are within this field. These solutions are often priced based on usage and the size of the content library used.

Augmented reality voorbeeld SEPHORA

Augmented reality voorbeeld Ray-Ban

Besides glasses and cosmetics, industry-specific solutions exist for fashion, furniture and building products.

Finally, there are very accessible services such as the mentioned Layar. These services often have a limited functionality, but a powerful and accessible content management system.

(This post was originally written in Dutch by Stefan Vermeulen (CEO EMAKERS) for Bloovi.)