Out of the old comes the new. The internet was birthed out of the buildup of technological advancement in computing. The internet provided the platform for ecommerce to emerge and become part of the solid foundations of the global economy — particularly in this moment as it acts as an economic crutch, carrying the burden of a mostly closed economy.
One could argue — and indeed many philosophers and social scientists do — that the entire evolution of human beings centers on our innate drive to search out new technologies, build on them, and transform them.
There’s no straight line towards progress. Tech that no longer met moral standards, was conceived as irrelevant, or no longer practical became obsolete, fading into obscurity. In the 18th century, bathing machines allowed people to indiscriminately change from their formal clothing into their bathing suits in the sea, providing privacy to Brits’ prudish, restrained sensibilities.
Then there is the worn out futurist idea of the jetpack. Just think, jetpacks are actually real and can be seen at the odd fair scattered across the country. But the jetpack simply turned out to be too impractical, loud and wasteful.. At least according to Google X.
The coming (augmented) world
Seen from afar, positioned at the top of the mountain looking out beyond the technological horizon, one can see heavy investment in recents years in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of the world that appears real, using special equipment like a headset. Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images on a person’s view of the real world.
When you fix AR to the world of ecommerce, it lets customers try on products or experience services before they make a purchase — bringing the store’s dressing room into your front room. No need to get undressed, though!
This is beneficial not only for the customer but also the retailer. In my late teens and early 20s there were countless times where I ordered clothes online, only for them to arrive and not seem to look right. So I sent them back, which was an inconvenience for me (the customer) and a loss of revenue for the retailer. AR makes it more likely that a customer will pick the right product on their first purchase, leading to fewer returns.
Despite investment in AR slowing down in the last couple of years, it is set to reach $60 billion this year. And the reasons are clear when you capture some customer insight: when compared to video content, 78% of people prefer augmented reality when it comes to digital experiences. And when it comes to augmented reality, 70% of customers are more loyal to brands and retailers that incorporate the tech as part of their shopping experience. The headline here is that AR provides enormous capabilities for richer digital experiences, experiences that customers are heavily in favor of, unlocking future growth opportunities and building stronger brand loyalty.
During the pandemic
With the shutting of doors, companies scrambled to figure out a plan B, a war-like strategy from the bunker to deal with a radically different daily experience not only for customers but the internal workings of each company. And AR is something that has the ability to step in and elevate flat online experiences towards more creative, deeper digital journeys.
One great example of this is the cosmetics company e.l.f., which registered year-on-year growth of 13%, pushing forward against strong tides of economic downfall. With its use of AR via the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform, it has generated millions of views and unlocked larger online growth.
Here is a screenshot of a product page on the e.l.f. website (hosted on SFCC) for a type of lip balm that is available in four colors. If a customer clicks on “virtual try-on” they will see a screen for a digital experience. If they click “live makeup” it will trigger their camera function, which will superimpose the product onto the customer, who is then able to “try on” the different versions of the same product.
With customers not being able to walk into a store and try on an actual product, those brands and retailers who can provide augmented experiences for customers to virtually try on products will find themselves in a better position during these painfully drawn out, testing conditions we remain living under.
Looking longer term, the pandemic may have triggered the quickening of companies adopting AR as they look to counteract damages to their physical store income. Whether the trend towards AR keeps pace in a post-lockdown world remains an open question, but appears favorable for those who adopt it.