Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dmytro Ternovyi who is an IT enthusiast and a passionate technology writer.
Augmented commerce, you say?
Virtual reality has been the big buzz in technology circles for quite some time now. It might surprise some to hear that some analysts are expecting augmented/virtual reality to become a $120 Billion market by 2020.
While virtual reality has the gaming and film markets pretty well in hand, speculating investors should be aware that there are dozens of more practical, and possibly more lucrative uses for augmented reality, especially in the business sector. The ability to super-impose images and movable 3D models over an actual environment has huge implications in marketing and industry. Some of these are already being taken advantage of by engineers and designers to create virtual prototypes and “floor models”.
These models can then be edited and displayed to clients without the cost of real building materials, or the hassles of shipping. Imagine ordering something online but having the ability to first see a virtual model in a real environment, establishing size and scale before ordering the product. This new world of augmented reality in e-commerce that some are calling “a-commerce” is just being realised.
This article will discuss existing examples of augmented commerce on the market, as well as the hardware required for their application, the changes that this will cause in other sectors, and why now is the perfect time to invest in this technology.
Top Tools for Augmented Commerce
CIMAGINE is an AR Startup based in Israel, who has the ability to link an e-commerce website to their viewing app, allowing the user to see a 3D rendering of a product in their home environment. CIMAGINE even makes the 3D rendering for the retailers. The impressive thing about this software, is that it does not require “Reference Markers”, a common component of augmented reality systems to be discussed below.
Users can take pictures of their homes in the CIMAGINE Viewer App so that they can place 3D models of objects that they find in the store (as long as the items have the software and a barcode or QR code that links to it) and virtually place it in their home. In either case, images of the model object in the user’s home can be posted to social media sites so that they can seek approval from their friends before making the final purchase.
Furthermore, if the original user’s friends like the model enough, the social media post can redirect them to the site that it was purchased from so that they can shop there too. If a website has mailing lists or rewards programs for its customers, the website can send 3D models of recommended items to customers.
The Webcam Social Shopper
Many shoppers avoid the process of buying clothing online, either because they don’t trust clothes that they can’t try on, or simply because they enjoy trying on clothes more than they enjoy seeing a model or a mannequin wearing it online. Software developers Zugara put augmented reality in e-commerce when they teamed up with online retailer PrestaShop to create The Webcam Social Shopper, a platform that turns a user’s webcam into an interactive mirror.
Using regular webcam technology paired with motion capture technology and AR, online shoppers can now “try on” clothing before they buy it online. And of course it’s linked to social media, so that no clothing-shopper has to make a purchasing decision alone. Similar to CIMAGINE, in asking friends their opinions before making an online purchase, potential shoppers are also advertising the site that they are on to their friends, which doesn’t quite have a comparable experience in physical retail, where either your friends are with you in the store, or they aren’t, and nobody brings all 500 of their Facebook friends to the store.
Preksh takes things a little differently, by creating virtual stores. Imagine Google Earth’s Street View inside of a building. Some of the store sites created by Preksh could likely be created and used with technology for Virtual Reality rather than augmented reality, due to the quality of image and the immersive value of the sites.
Just like some of the examples listed above try to replicate the shopping experience by letting the user try things on, this site tries to replicate the shopping experience by allowing the users to enter and wander around a store. Alternatively, there are features allowing the inventory of a store to be viewed as lists. The store owner can be directly contacted within the app by users, and of course snapshots of the stores can be shared on social media.
Reports from furniture retailers state that a considerable fraction of customers buy furniture that is too large. Often more important than whether or not a user’s Facebook friends like their couch colour, is whether or not the couch is going to fit in their homes. Since most stores have some form of return policy, a sale can be lost even after the customer has left the store with the product. Similarly, if a customer sees furniture, and then has to go home to measure the available space, there is a potential loss of sale, which is where Binocular comes in to help customers view furniture in their homes.
AR giant Blippar, worked with Ikea to create the first AR furniture catalogue, which used the print catalogue itself as a reference marker. The marker was not necessary to view furniture, but scale could not be as accurately determined without it, and some other features did not function as well.
Sephora Virtual Artist
Cosmetics company “Sephora” is allowing shoppers to see different shades of lipstick on themselves before purchasing. The promotional feature on the website and associated mobile app require users to take or upload pictures of themselves, which makes the feature less interactive than others that we have seen, but AR is still young.
A few pieces of technology are usually required for users to interact with Augmented Reality applications and features.
Many of the features listed in the article above require a smartphone. Smartphones have a lot of technology built in that makes them effective for use with AR, including the cameras that are often required, as well as sensors that detect the orientation and movement of the device that can be translated into movement and positioning of a digital model. Webcams, which are often built into laptops and some desktop monitors, but which can also be purchased separately and mounted to a computer are also required for many of the applications mentioned above.
Reference Beacons are technologies specific to AR, though they are closely related to QR Codes, which are essentially very complicated Bar Codes. Most of the time on AR, QR codes or reference markers are used as a stand-in for an object that is replaced by a digital model within the app, similar to motion capture technology used for CGI in movies, but much simpler, as the reference points themselves do not usually need to move once the app is enabled. Most of the time Reference markers can be printed from websites.
Reasons to Invest
Like any technology, there is a peak time to get in during the development phase. Analysts said years ago that the Augmented eCommerce market would rapidly grow between 2013 and 2018, and during this time the value of the market would increase while the effective room in the market would decrease, which literally means there is never a better time than now to invest.
About the author
Dmytro Ternovyi is an IT enthusiast and a passionate technology writer. He believes that the popularization of technology is one of the ways of evolution for humanity. Lately I’ve been working a lot on the AR/VR subject. My addiction is so strong, I even decided to start my own Virtual Reality boutique called AppReal. So drop me a line on Twitter @dimulik for a quick chat about tech on it’s edge.