Emerging TechnologyAR & VRHow web-based AR can help retailers boost customer engagement and sales

How web-based AR can help retailers boost customer engagement and sales

Rock Paper Reality's Co- Founder, Patrick Johnson highlights the benefits of web-based AR content experiences, specifically in the retail sector.

30-second summary:

This article will look into the benefits of Augmented Reality (AR) content experiences, specifically in the retail sector:

  • It will define and explain the value of WebAR versus app-based AR experiences – both for the consumer and brands
  • Dive deeper into holographic WebAR, with examples
  • Educate on how to unearth the value of WebAR for your business and how to go about putting an AR strategy in place
  • Finally, it will touch on the future of this new content medium for marketers and advertisers.

Competition for consumer attention is fiercer than ever. Experts suggest that the average consumer is fielding 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. In today’s attention economy, brands are spending millions of dollars on marketing and ad communications strategies to stand out amongst the sea of digital content that floods consumer’s devices. But the harsh reality is that still so many brands go unnoticed. So how do brands cut through the noise and deliver memorable messages that drive real-world impact? One answer to this challenge is Augmented Reality (AR).

Augmented reality, when deployed correctly and for the right use cases, is proving to be an incredibly successful tool for capturing people’s attention and driving successful campaigns for marketers and advertisers alike.

Not to mention, in today’s COVID landscape, consumer brands have to try even harder to connect, communicate, and sell to customers who are less inclined or unable to safely go into stores. Digital transformation has become critical for the success of any business and augmented reality is an important part of this evolution.

COVID-19 and demand from younger generations require businesses to offer better digital experiences and more efficient ways to shop online. Immersive storytelling and Web-based AR can help deliver on that–creating new ways for companies to reach and delight customers, drive brand engagement, and achieve measurable value.

AR in advertising and marketing

The AR market is forecasted to be valued at more than 18.8 billion dollars in 2020.

With the introduction of ARKit and ARCore (the iOS and Android platforms that run AR for mobile) and web-based AR platforms such as 8th Wall (we’ll dive into the technical nuances later), advertisers and marketers now have a big opportunity to create innovative campaigns that integrate the digital world into the physical world.

Whether it’s through augmenting product packaging with interactive content, virtual tours in brick-and-mortar shops to display more detailed information, or ‘try before you buy’ at home opportunities (Starbucks or IKEA as two obvious examples here), augmented reality is enriching the customer experience digitally in a way that few technologies can.
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AR marketing campaigns are far more likely to convert browsers to buyers. Brands online have between 3-7 secs to convert to a sale but with AR, dwell times are increased to 75 seconds (4x that of mobile video). Memory response to AR is also 70% higher than non-AR.

AR ads are also seeing a 520% increase in intent to purchase over the next six months (95x the benchmark for non-AR). Virgin Holidays ran an AR-enabled email campaign that saw a 40% increase in email rates and a 75% increase in click-through-rates (CTR), a key indicator for engagement.

With the online retail market making up 16.1% or about $4.2 trillion of the overall retail market and expected to reach 22% by 2023, brands know they need to create a standout digital shopping experience for their customers.

For example, Shopify has found that viewing 3D product visualizations result in a 2x boost (200 percent) in conversions.

AR marketing uses are versatile and can break down language barriers for brands looking to expand into international markets. Simply by holding up your phone, consumers can read content in their preferred language. Google translate AR mode provides text in more than 40 different languages.

It’s also an accurate way for brands to capture valuable data on what customers like and dislike for more targeted advertising and to integrate with existing retargeting services like Facebook Pixel, Google Ads, landing pages, or wish lists.

Immersive AR platforms can tell a story that directs people to deeper content engagement through gamification and interaction, bringing consumers into the experience itself since AR is accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

The difference between web-based AR vs app-based AR

Where app-based AR (think Pokemon GO) requires the user to download and store an application on their phone (taking up time and space), WebAR is app-less and requires no downloads.

Like application-based AR, WebAR uses your phone’s camera to register computer-generated information and virtual experiences to the real-world. But where WebAR has the upper hand is its usability and accessibility as it’s initiated through a QR code or hyperlink that runs on your phone, similar to a traditional website in the browser.

WebAR breaks down barriers to entry for users and dramatically improves engagement numbers. All a user needs is the smartphone in their pocket. With approximately 3.4B smartphone devices in the market today that’s a pretty broad pool of potential users!

WebAR is still in its infancy and does limitations today. In many ways, Web AR can be thought of as an extension of a webpage with the corresponding memory and 3D file format constraints which has a knock-on effect on the visual and real-time performance quality.

But big players including Facebook, Apple, Google, and Snapchat are already placing bets on web-based AR with everything from ads, product quick views, and face filters.

In similar fashion to other emerging tech, WebAR is expected to evolve quickly over the next few years and be even more performative with the roll out of infrastructures such as 5G.

WebAR offers the simplest way for big tech players like Apple and Google to build their own AR capabilities straight into their web-browsers and operating systems for both control and ease of use.

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The benefits of web AR in retail

The potential of Web-based AR in retail is huge, particularly in terms of attracting new customers and boosting sales. By using WebAR, brands can engage customers in-store using QR Codes to interact with products, services, posters, flyers, receipts, or tags to gain insight into the brand in a way that can educate, engage, and entertain the user.

With 60% of shoppers looking up product information with their phones while in-store, customers are already used to pulling out their phones while shopping, Nudging shoppers to scan a QR code to activate an AR experience that will help inform purchasing or extend product information is a small ask, especially when it’s that easy.

Why should shoppers care about WebAR?

Studies have shown that 91 percent of online shoppers have ordered clothes online that didn’t fit right. More than a third, 37 percent, regularly buy more than one size of an item and return what doesn’t fit. That equates to huge pain for any shopper and huge expenses in return costs for any company.

How does Web AR solve this challenge? Say a customer—let’s call her Jane—loves a pair of pants in green, but the store only has her size in black on the shelf. Using her phone camera and a simple QR code, Jane scans the tag and can now easily see a holographic fashion model (or a 3D avatar of herself in the near future) wearing the green pants in front of her.

Jane then configures her avatar with a pair of black shoes and matching sweater. The app is connected to the store’s warehouse management system and Jane is notified she can have the green pants shipped to her home from another store along with the recommended sweater.

Jane now has the confidence and information she needs to make a more informed purchasing decision. Jane adds both items to cart and buys. Jane is happy and the store just received an upsell with zero sales touch.

Taking this example one step further, customers like Jane don’t even need to go into stores to try on clothes. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, worked with Rock Paper Reality (RPR) to develop an AR fashion configurator that allows customers to customize a virtual mannequin with the clothing of their choice both instore and at home, add it to their cart, and purchase.

It’s AR experiences such as these that increase a buyer’s confidence and convenience to shop online, especially during a time of social distancing when it’s often safer to remain in your home.

Additional reasons why brands should care about WebAR?

  • The cost to implement WebAR doesn’t require a native iOS or Android app which reduces development complexity and project costs
  • WebAR offers the ability to beta test and get real-time feedback from users before fully committing to a large investment up front.
  • Since WebAR is web-based, it’s simple to get real-time data and ROI on experiences by integrating tools like Google Analytics into the experience.
  • WebAR offers benefits of scale and reach, since you can target your audience on just about any channel or platform
  • WebAR helps brands connect more personally with their customers by integrating AR into their CRM and seamlessly pushing out experiences to their customers wherever they are and whenever they need an AR experience most.
  • WebAR offers proven results – we’ll look at some examples further down this article.

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Holographic WebAR in retail

Holographic WebAR uses of volumetric holograms that bring real people into immersive media. People are transformed into these holograms through a process called volumetric capture which essentially involves dozens of cameras filming a user from a variety of angles and stitching it together into a textured, 3D “hologram.”

This process is completed in volumetric capture studios such as the Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio in San Francisco or Dimension Studio in London. For the first time, brands can now connect customers with life-like 3D holographic performances of singers, celebrities, athletes, spokespeople, or anyone who best represents their brand.

Rock Paper Reality—the augmented reality agency— developed a holographic platform that will allow online shoppers to view 1-to-1 scale, photorealistic holograms of fashion models in your home with 3D set designs for added context for clothes.

Think holographic models sitting on virtual blocks of broken concrete for your brand’s urban line or palm trees and beach sand for your new summer season collection.

People are essential to the way we communicate. Until recently, AR/VR technology mostly used cartoon-like avatars in the experiences, losing much of the immersion and wow factor that photo-realistic holograms offer. Volumetric captured content in WebAR bridges the gap between digital and physical storytelling by maintaining the perception of human interaction in the real-world.

With holographic WebAR you can place 3D, photo-realistic holograms of people anywhere including consumer products, bus stops, in stores, and at events as a way to excite customers and create positive associations with a brand that customers will never forget.

Even the Israeli President entered everyone’s living rooms in April this year to deliver a powerful message during Independence day for the country when in lockdown.

Web-based AR case examples

Although it may still be early, WebAR experiences are proving successful for quick and convenient projects that have real impact. Here are a few examples that RPR has developed that showcases how Web AR works and how it’s being used by leading consumer brands today:

1) Saatchi Art

Developed by Rock Paper Reality (RPR) and powered by 8th Wall’s WebAR platform, Saatchi Art’s “View in my room” feature was the largest deployment of WebAR to date, allowing consumers to view over 1 million works of art in their home before buying online.

Saatchi discovered that 70% of art buyers are hesitant to purchase because they can’t see the artwork in advance. By offering the ability to view an artwork via augmented reality on mobile, buyers can now instantly see the beauty of the artwork in their home and feel confident in their purchase.

RPR designed & architected the solution for scalability across the entire site, each art piece is dynamically scaled based on the artwork’s metadata and deployed into AR on a 3D canvas with the approximate real-world dimensions of the physical artwork.

Saatchi AR

2) Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio #1

Developed by Rock Paper Reality and in collaboration with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio, the Siduri Holographic Experience  is the world’s first holographic WebAR experience for a consumer brand.

Siduri Wines came to Rock Paper Reality with the challenge to create a hologram of their winemaker, Adam Lee, and develop a way that their customers could engage with him without any need for an app across the consumer journey: from digital advertising and online promotion to in-store and product activations.

Rock Paper Reality worked with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio, using volumetric capture technology to create a holographic Adam that users could access via on-bottle QR Codes or an online hyperlink.

RPR then developed an AR experience fused with 3D content that amplified Siduri’s core messaging and brought holographic-Adam to homes and stores across the world, increasing customer engagement, brand retention, and loyalty with the Siduri brand.

See the experience in action here.

3) Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio #2

RPR and the Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio again came together to bring a first-of-its-kind holographic modeling and fashion platform that will soon be available to online retailers.

Users will be able to view a diversity of holographic models wearing clothing items at human scale in the real world.

As noted above, this experience improves buyer confidence around online clothes shopping by bringing you face-to-face with the item you intend to purchase to inspect fit, look, and quality.

So why aren’t more brands jumping on the AR bandwagon?

The metrics outlined above are enough to make most marketing teams jump on the AR bandwagon. And yet, adoption still does not reflect that sentiment. So, what’s the hold up?

A study from the Boston Consulting Group found that while 9/10 brands are using or plan to use AR in their campaigns, but only 1/10 indicate that AR is well integrated into their marketing strategy. An AR campaign with no strategy is a recipe for failure, which is bad for the brand and bad for the proliferation and adoption of AR.

Brands are naturally still hesitant to invest before they have seen what other similar brands are doing, including best practices and benchmarks.

Brands have open questions on how AR users overlay with their target personas and how do they deploy AR to their customers? How much does AR cost? What channels are best for them? Other questions we see include at what point(s) should they insert AR along the customer journey, and how do they go about measuring success?

Without a carefully considered approach to evaluate, deploy, and validate WebAR across your various marketing and advertising touch points, your AR campaign will be at risk of falling short of your goals. In this regard AR is no different than traditional marketing or advertising. It is not a panacea or silver bullet.

RPR’s team of top-tier consultants have developed an AR Blueprint to help customers develop a data-driven launch strategy to set up their AR campaign for success.

Working closely with your project stakeholders to understand your customers, the use cases, and your brand’s marketing or advertising= objectives, RPR ensures that every WebAR experience that we develop is crafted to achieve campaign goals and gather the right insights post-launch to learn, iterate, and improve for greater success.

To best achieve this, RPR maps out the customer journey, capturing the voice of the customer to understand if WebAR is the best tool to solve current pain points, enhance the overall experience, and achieve target KPIs.

What will WebAR mean for traditional marketing?

Experts say print products won’t disappear but instead will adapt with the assistance of AR because AR can be applied to any medium – whether real objects, people, or print. This medium will create an enriched storytelling experience for readers and provide new streams of profit for businesses.

Printed media and AR in retail is a two-way street with each promoting the other. The New Yorker recently introduced cartoons in augmented reality so readers can bring inanimate objects to life through their AR experience

What does the future hold for AR?

WebAR can be applied to just about anything – whether you are launching a new product, looking to wow your customers by bringing a 2D print story to life in 3D, or even as a way to engage a crowd at a physical event or on Out-Of-Home (OOH) advertising.

The opportunities to deliver your message in a unique, compelling, and personal way are endless – bringing yourself, your brand ambassadors or your customers into the new wave of marketing by building new levels of brand loyalty, customer excitement, and ultimately driving sales.

At RPR we love being at the forefront of new AR technology as it unfolds such as WebAR. But what excites us the most is what is yet to come!

Patrick Johnson is Co-Founder of Rock Paper Reality (RPR), a veteran Augmented Reality agency who are experts in AR development, 3D modeling and AR strategy. RPR helps companies from startup to Fortune 500s develop best-in-class AR content and strategies proven to drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and revenue growth.

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