As much as ecommerce is a major growth industry, it still faces some challenges when it comes to particular types of product, such as luxuries, pieces of furniture, and items of clothing.
With such a product — a T-shirt, for instance — the average shopper will always prefer to have the chance to see it in person before committing to it. That way, they can try a T-shirt on, confirm the colour, and assess the quality of the fabric.
Browsing an online store doesn’t currently offer that level of experience. You might read the exact sizing of an item, but that doesn’t mean you’ll trust it.
Seeing is believing, as they say, and there’s no shortage of retailers out there willing to be quite lax with their item descriptions. But what of virtual reality and augmented reality (hereafter, VR/AR)? With their power to enhance digital experiences, can they establish that trust?
I contend that they can — at least to a significant extent. Here’s how.
Showing all angles of a product
Imagine a shopper looking at various satchels with the intention of picking one to buy, but each one only offers a front view and a rear view.
What about the overhead view? They need to know the depth of the item so they can glean how much space it offers, and the depth listing in the dimensions table isn’t much help because they don’t think of space in abstract terms — perhaps they want to visually compare the products to a satchel they already own.
Virtual and augmented reality can grant total three-dimensional viewing freedom. Each product can be fully scanned from all angles and entirely represented digitally.
When a shopper lands on a product page, having the option to immediately begin rotating a 360-degree view of the product will provide a great deal of reassurance about the item (it will also indicate that the retailer is sufficiently confident in its product quality to expose that level of information).
Making sizes feel more real using virtual dummies
A shopper might read that a shirt is 46”, but what does that actually mean to them? It should be cut and dry, yes, but sizing isn’t quite so simple. It can be measured in different places, or the thickness of a material can ensure that one 46” shirt is a much tighter fit than another.
Some people like loose clothing, others don’t, and unless someone recognises the signature fit of a particular manufacturer, they’ll need more information (there’s also the prevalence of fashion jargon and inconsistent terms: what does slim fit mean in any given situation?).
Sooner or later, we should be able to see the use of virtual dummies. Shoppers will define their sizing and be provided with a 3D model in their exact size upon which they can preview items of clothing.
While they won’t be able to feel the fit, they’ll get to closely inspect it and gauge whether there’s enough room and what they think of the complete look. Consequently, it should also minimise the numbers of returns.
Allowing variable lighting conditions
One product can look very different when the lighting conditions change, and you’re typically unlikely to get a wide range of lighting conditions in the provided product photos.
More often than not, you’ll get studio shots with bright and even artificial lighting, failing to give you an idea of what the item would look like under everyday conditions.
In a virtual environment, however, the shopper can easily adjust the context of a preview. They can turn the lights up or down, move them, alter the colours — experiment as much as they need to verify that they’re content with the general aesthetic.
When their new sofa shows up and they settle down to watch some television on a cold winter evening, they won’t be taken aback by how it looks in the dark, because they’ll have known before they bought it.
Making data more visually impactful
The typical product page will provide various pieces of information about the product, including (but certainly not limited to) guarantees, power requirements, cleaning parameters, and colour options.
This data can feel dry and detached from the item — this is chiefly because the presentation is so uninspired, driven by the need to meet SEO requirements.
But VR/AR tech can establish virtual environments that display this data in creative and impactful ways which is extremely useful in the digital sphere where varied content is invaluable.
Imagine colours stretching out before the shopper’s eyes, or battery life represented through a workday diorama. Why would this affect trust? Because the data would feel more significant, and thus prove more convincing.
Supporting scaled in-home product previews
Despite their best efforts, a shopper can’t always be fully confident about the measurements of their homes or living areas. Floors sag, wood swells, and tape measures are deployed incorrectly.
And even if all the measurements are accurate and accounted for (including those of the product, which is no guarantee), someone can get a new table installed only to realize too late that the aesthetic isn’t really suitable.
Using AR apps, an ecommerce retailer can allow shoppers to preview their possible buys in their intended surroundings, with the size scaling in accordance with defined parameters.
Anyone using such an app can get a meaningful idea of what the product would look like in situ and make a suitable decision. If they can tell that it will truly fit the environment, they’ll be far more likely to go ahead with the purchase.
Will VR/AR tech ever fully overcome the trust gap between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retail?
Unless full note-perfect sensory-feedback systems are perfected, it’s hard to see how — but it can massively narrow it by hugely expanding the range of options available to online shoppers.
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