Content is king — and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. A recent report showed nearly two-thirds of B2C marketers increased their investment in visual content in 2018. More than half (52%) used it to generate sales and 63% to build loyalty with existing customers.
Yet as brands generate more content — from photos to videos — they face a new challenge: they must focus their investments on the experiences that drive purchasing and offer differentiation in a crowded field of rich media.
“Immersive commerce” — which includes augmented reality (AR) and manipulable 3D product models embedded on the product page — fits the bill on both counts. This enhanced commerce enables consumers to place product models in real-life environments and manipulate product views, supplying the context that’s vital to creating relevant, engaging experiences that fuel buyers’ confidence to drive conversions and lower product returns.
A recent Vertebrae study measuring the emotional impact of visual content found that AR was 2.6 times more engaging than static images, and 2.1 times more engaging than video. A separate consumer survey conducted by Vertebrae showed that 78% of people who’ve experienced AR actively prefer these virtual experiences over video content.
With a strong preference for AR and 3D over 2D formats — and a growing preference for visual content overall — 2019 is the year that retailers must go beyond pretty pictures and videos. Here is why:
Shoppers want to know how products relate to them personally, and AR e-Commerce tools that overlay three-dimensional product models in real-world environments help shoppers gauge fit, match colors and styles, and design physical spaces better than any array of photos. This combination of interactivity and personal relevance makes AR and 3D e-Commerce especially appealing.
AR tools for e-Commerce also drive sales. When asked to choose between a shopping site that used traditional still photos and 2D video, and a site that featured AR visualization tools along with 3D product views shoppers could manipulate, 92% of Vertebrae survey participants said they preferred the 3D- and AR-enabled site.
Leading brands are already seeing a payoff from adoption of AR technologies. The social network Houzz said users of its AR app are 11 times more likely to purchase than other site users, while e-Commerce site Tenth Street Hats reported a 33% lift in conversion for products offering an AR-powered “try it on” feature within the e-Commerce site.
Today, AR is more accessible than ever, thanks to technological advances that enable AR in the web browser, no longer requiring a specialized app. As access widens, the supply of virtual content is forecast to grow: Cisco estimates that augmented reality and virtual reality content will increase by a factor of 12 between 2017 and 2022.
So far, just one in 10 brands say they’ve integrated AR into their marketing efforts, according to recent data from the Boston Consulting Group. But adoption is growing quickly, with another 45% of marketers saying they’re in experimental mode with AR, and 35% saying they have future plans to use it.
Merchants that capitalize on this trend early and prioritize AR and 3D development at scale can gain a significant advantage with shoppers. Consumers today are mostly familiar with AR as a SnapChat lens, so sellers that can deliver realistic, seamless AR experiences have the opportunity to surprise and delight shoppers while also providing valuable product information previously unavailable to digital settings.
As the technology becomes mainstream, integration of AR content on product pages and in on-site search results, and enabling purchase from within AR viewers, will become the norm, not the exception. Retailers and brand manufacturers that begin the AR eCommerce journey in earnest now will be well-positioned to meet — and exceed — these rising expectations. The technology barriers to producing and distributing 3D and AR content at scale have been removed, and the visionaries are already in place with immersive commerce strategies that are live today, driving the most value out of these exceptional experiences.
Vince Cacace is the Founder and CEO of Vertebrae, Inc., an Augmented Reality e-Commerce and advertising platform based in Santa Monica, Calif. Vertebrae enables brands and retailers to showcase products and tell stories by using the smartphone camera as a marketing tool. A Forbes 30 Under 30 member, Cacace is a recognized digital marketing and AR/VR innovator.