Is Augmented Reality the Future of Online Shopping?

Nov 21, 2022 | 0 Votes by Mel - rate Your vote
While shopping online is as easy as clicking on a button, one of the greatest limitations in e-commerce is that it doesn’t provide a full sensory, three-dimensional product experience—it’s one thing to find out first-hand how an item will look in real life versus how it looks from a computer or mobile phone screen. But augmented reality (AR) apps are increasingly blurring the boundaries between real and virtual shopping experiences, especially in certain product categories. Time to Buy - Is Augmented Reality the Future of Online Shopping?

Online shopping has never been more popular, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing where buying goods was made virtually contactless, more convenient, and safer than ever before. But while shopping online is as easy as clicking on a button, one of the greatest limitations in e-commerce is that it doesn’t lend itself well to a full sensory product experience.

In a traditional brick-and-mortar store environment, you can try on shoes and apparel to make sure they fit perfectly; feel the fabrics to find out if they are comfortable on your skin; or see for yourself if that cool couch will actually fit in your living room. From the very beginning of e-commerce, the challenge of shopping online has always been the difficulty of representing a physical, three-dimensional product in a virtual, two-dimensional environment as well as not being in the shop personally to experience the product for yourself in real-time.

But while real-life physical interactivity is technically impossible in e-commerce, these days, augmented reality (AR) applications are an increasingly acceptable compromise, helping bridge the gap between shopping at a physical location and shopping online by making it easier to represent merchandise and offering a way to give customers deeper and more complete information about their preferred products — without leaving your own home.

The concept behind augmented reality is that it attempts to augment an environment that already exists and you are familiar with—unlike “virtual” reality which presents a totally artificial environment.

E-commerce primarily uses Marker-based AR (also known as Image Recognition or Recognition-based AR), the software detects an object (the “marker”) in front of the camera and provides information about the object on the screen. When a device using the AR application detects that marker, the app replaces the marker on the screen with a 3D version of the corresponding object. Then the user can view the object in expanded detail, from many angles, and even superimposed on a likeness of yourself.

The benefits of AR in this context are ten-fold, with the most pertinent being the fact that some of the guesswork from shopping physically sight-unseen is diminished as customers get a chance to preview products or try new services in a setting that resembles their own environment before committing to making a purchase.

AR helps online shoppers understand what they’re buying and how the items will work for them. AR is especially proving useful as a virtual try-on tool for things like clothing, shoes, furniture, cosmetics, and accessories such as eyeglasses.


As the tech develops for more immersive and cohesive experiences, the window of opportunity for AR to be integrated into e-commerce websites and social media channels is opening wider. An October 2021 survey conducted by market research company Bizrate Insights indicates that half of U.S. adults have either used or are at least somewhat interested in using AR or virtual reality (VR) while shopping.

One of the product categories that has benefited significantly from AR is Furniture & Appliances, with major home furnishing retailers such as The Home Depot, Ikea, Anthropologie, Target, and Wayfair investing heavily in AR tools (such as Apple’s ARKit software to place true-to-scale 3D models of furniture in photos taken on customers’ iPhones and iPads) within their websites to allow customers to see what various furniture items look like within their own homes in a 3D view. AR can also automatically measure your space and provides recommendations on furniture that fits in that area.

Another segment where AR is popularly being used as a virtual try-on tool is Makeup/Cosmetics. Fashionistas, influencers and makeup mavens were already used to using AR via beauty filters on Snapchat and other media platforms for entertainment purposes. But post Covid-19 quarantine experience, companies such as Sephora, NYX, Urban Decay, Ulta, and L’Oreal are switching from “try before you buy” sample counters to the virtually safe, socially-distant experience of beauty AR.


For example, Sephora’s innovative mobile app contains a Virtual Artist. The Virtual Artist uses facial recognition technology to allow customers to digitally try on products. Customers scan their face using the app then the app will overlay different shades of makeup on the customer’s face digitally. If a customer likes their simulated look they can quickly and easily buy the products through the app.

Meanwhile, Fashion Apparel and Accessories are also getting in on the AR bandwagon, with Nike leading the way with their Nike Fit app. The feature allows customers to find their true shoe size. To enable the app’s functionality all users have to do is point their phone’s camera at their feet and the app will determine their shoe size which is then saved in the app. You can then shop for sneakers and toggle through and change the colorways and textures before hitting the “try on” button to see a digital 360-degree overlay of what they would look like on your feet. If you like what you see, you can click “shop now” to immediately purchase the pair you’ve selected.


You can even try on eyeglasses using AR. Eyewear retailer Warby Parker is one of the first eyewear brands to take advantage of AR to approximate how a pair of glasses will look on your face without trying them on in a store physically. Since the retailer cannot stock all of its inventory in its stores it is a convenient way to allow customers to “try-on” a broader range of products and request feedback on the results through selfies shared with friends.

With online sales forecasted to soar exponentially, augmented reality experiences that allow shoppers to virtually try on, personalize or visualize products—from clothing to shoes to makeup to furniture—not only have the potential to change the e-commerce and social marketing game for brands looking to up their profits online, but also to significantly change the way consumers shop in this new, post-pandemic, socially-distanced world.

Featured Brands

The Home Depot The Home Depot One of the most recognizable home improvement brands in the United States, The Home Depot is renowned for offering a wide variety of products, home improvement services, and free DIY workshops and project ideas. Barnes & Noble Barnes & Noble Barnes & Noble is the largest bookselling company in the United States. With over 750 retail stores across all 50 states, this company sells a variety of digital media, toys and educational products, gifts, reading aids, art supplies, and more, in addition to a myriad of books. iStock Photo iStock Photo Owned and managed by Getty Images, iStock Photo is among the world’s best source of quality stock content, be it photos, illustrations, videos or audio, at affordable prices. eBay eBay Along with Amazon, eBay is one of the most recognizable online marketplaces that sell literally anything you’ll ever need. Whether it is the latest gadgets, handbags for the ladies, old and collectible VHS tapes, or even travel deals, you can find them all on eBay! PatPat PatPat Established by InterFocus Inc, PatPat is set up with the sole intent of providing quality mom and baby goods at affordable prices. And how they do that? They use the Manufacturer to Consumer model (M2C) – They cut out the middlemen and let you order your products directly from the manufacturers. Mattel Mattel Mattel is one of the biggest brands and companies when it comes to popular children’s toys. They own multiple IPs including the iconic brands, Barbie and Hot Wheels. Aside from their own range of toys, they also work with other huge entertainment companies like Disney and DC Comics.


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