Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we interact with brands and commerce has completely changed. While brick-and-mortar shopping was already on the decline, the pandemic greatly accelerated its timeline. Consumers no longer want to go to the store like they used to; malls and shopping centers aren’t seen as places for communal gathering, but as relics of the past.
As a result, brands are looking for new ways to engage with consumers and showcase their products in ways that allow them to be seen, touched, and engaged with like never before.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR) refers to immersive technology that enhances the real world by overlaying digital content, such as images, videos, or 3D objects, onto the user’s view of the physical environment. It’s typically experienced through mobile devices, smart glasses, or headsets. AR technology utilizes computer vision, depth tracking, and sensory input to seamlessly blend the virtual and real worlds, allowing users to interact with virtual objects as if they were part of the physical world.
One of the key advantages of AR is its ability to provide users with an immersive and interactive experience. It enhances learning, training, and entertainment by offering real-time information, contextual guidance, and virtual simulations. AR also has practical applications in various industries, including healthcare, architecture, retail, and manufacturing, enabling improved visualization, enhanced productivity, and more efficient workflows.
AR is not the first immersive technology to make its way onto the scene, there’s also virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). Before we proceed, it’s important to understand the differences between the three.
Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive technology wherein a virtual world replaces a user’s entire experience. This can be accomplished either through computer-generated imagery or through 360-degree video. VR allows users to explore and manipulate virtual objects, interact with virtual characters, and experience a heightened sense of presence and immersion that goes beyond traditional media.
Mixed reality (MR) combines elements of both VR and AR to create a seamless blend of the virtual and real worlds. In mixed reality experiences, users can interact with digital content while still being aware of and able to interact with their physical environment. MR achieves this by utilizing advanced sensors, cameras, and spatial mapping to accurately track the user’s surroundings and position virtual objects within that space. This allows for a more immersive and interactive experience where virtual objects can appear as if they exist in the real world and can interact with physical objects or surfaces.
Apple Vision Pro
In an impressive stride towards the future of immersive technology, Apple’s much-anticipated Vision Pro headset will finally be available for pre-order January 19 with units being available for everyone else on February 2. Equipped with advanced AR and VR capabilities, this device enables users to seamlessly blend digital content with their physical surroundings. By combining cutting-edge features and unparalleled specifications, Apple is poised to revolutionize the way we perceive and interact with immersive content. Whether it’s exploring virtual worlds, engaging in interactive educational simulations, or simply enjoying immersive entertainment, the Vision Pro headset takes these experiences to new heights.
As expected from Apple, Vision Pro seamlessly integrates with the Apple ecosystem. Users can leverage the power of Siri, Apple’s intelligent assistant, to navigate and control their virtual experiences with voice commands. The device also connects effortlessly with other Apple devices, expanding its functionality and enhancing cross-platform experiences. Although the device will come with a hefty $3,499 price tag, Vision Pro looks to reset the market for mixed reality headsets, separating itself as a top-of-market option when compared with other brands.
Other Immersive Technology Brands and Products
Despite the excitement around Vision Pro, many people are pointing out that it’s built on pre-existing technology. In this dynamic landscape, there are brands that have already emerged as leaders over the years, offering innovative products that redefine our digital experiences. Two of these top brands and products include:
Oculus (owned by Facebook): Oculus is a leading brand in the realm of VR. Their top product, the Oculus Quest 2, has garnered significant attention and acclaim. This standalone VR headset offers wireless freedom and a high-resolution display for an immersive visual experience. With its built-in sensors and controllers, the Oculus Quest 2 enables users to interact with virtual environments and games, transporting them to new realms of entertainment and exploration.
Microsoft HoloLens: Microsoft HoloLens is a pioneer in the field of MR, blending the physical and virtual worlds seamlessly. The HoloLens 2 is the flagship product from Microsoft. It features a comfortable and ergonomic design with an improved field of view, allowing users to overlay holographic content onto their real-world environment. The HoloLens 2 is widely utilized for enterprise applications, offering solutions for industries such as manufacturing, architecture, and healthcare, where users can visualize and manipulate digital content within their physical workspace.
Immersive Technology Meets E-Commerce
But how can immersive technology be of practical use for brands in 2024 and beyond? Does this technology make sense to consumers that may be skeptical to try it out? Here are a few ways in which e-commerce businesses can begin introducing AR, VR, and MR technologies to consumers in practical and applicable ways.
Placing Products in the Room
One of the most immediate ways brands can begin implementing immersive technology is by placing products in the hands of consumers. Oftentimes, customers are left imagining what products would look like in their homes or apartments and, short of actually purchasing them, are left guessing.
Take furniture, for example.
Using AR technology, furniture manufacturers can allow customers to digitally place their products in their homes to see how they will look with regard to sizing, design, and color. This can allow customers to save on shipping, delivery, and frustration as they would normally have to make the best guess as to what type of furniture would work best in the room.
By developing AR applications or VR experiences, brands can enable customers to visualize how garments would look and fit on themselves, enhancing the online shopping experience. These immersive technologies allow users to virtually “try on” different outfits, explore various styles, and even customize their virtual avatars to closely resemble their own body shape. This approach not only increases customer engagement and confidence in their purchases but also reduces the need for physical try-ons and returns, ultimately improving customer satisfaction and operational efficiency for fashion brands.
Personalize the Branding Experience
One of the coolest things about immersive technology is the ability to hide its capabilities in plain sight. Using a smartphone camera, you can turn almost anything into a 3D experience; tons of brands are are now using 3D packaging which comes to life when viewed through a smartphone.
For instance, Jack Daniels created an amazing AR experience using just their bottle label that could be viewed through any smartphone. AR creates an opportunity whereby any surface, design, or photo can be elevated, making the opportunities truly endless.
Brands Using Immersive Technology
Sephora has been using AR for several years to allow its customers to try on various styles of makeup. You can dynamically apply hundreds of different styles of lipstick, eye shadow, foundation, and more. The beauty brand L’oreal recently reported that AR technology that offers digital makeup can increase sales by 27-34 percent.
Lens Cart is an eyeglass company that allows you to dynamically try on different styles of glasses via their AR app. Once you scan your face, you can begin getting tips on your style of glasses based on their expert style guides.
The IkeaAssemble AR app lays out all of the pieces and parts you will need to assemble your ikea product, and then helps you build it. As you progress, the app will follow along with you and help you in the event you ever mess up.
Immersive technology can help e-commerce and product brands make the leap from being brick and mortar to being fully digital. Customers want to try out your products and hold them in their hands before purchasing. It’s human nature. However, by being able to digitally place your products in their homes, on their bodies, or in their worlds, you stand a much greater chance of getting them to trust you and make a purchase.
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