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The changing world where reality is augmented

24th July 2019

Like it or not, tech is changing the way that we, as human beings, interact with the world around us. Augmented reality (AR) is a prime example.  It’s a technology that takes our physical environment and superimposes digital content onto it.  

The origins can be traced back to the late 1960s, but perhaps the first widely adopted AR application was Pokémon Go, a game that allowed players to use their phone to overlay Pokémon characters onto their physical surroundings.  

The implications for this technology are huge, and it is no wonder that canny e-commerce companies are embracing it.  Countless online sales are lost due to the lack of shopper’s confidence in evaluating the product.  AR has the potential to totally transform and enhance the customer journey, ensuring more people continue through to purchase. 

Let’s look at some examples of e-retailers who are using this technology well.


Think of IKEA, and you immediately think of Sunday afternoons lost in their huge stores, amazing meatballs and comfy sofas.  But this is a company not content to rest on its laurels, investing billions of dollars into e-commerce development.  IKEA was ahead of the curve, launching an AR version of their catalogue as long ago as 2014.  Products were scanned from the physical catalogue and could then be dropped into place in your room using the camera on your phone.

This was superseded by their much slicker Place app in 2017.  The app lets customers scan their room and then place IKEA furniture in it so that you can see exactly how items will look and fit in your own house.  What a great help for the 14 percent of customers who have taken home furniture that turns out to be the wrong size for its intended spot in their home.


ASOS, the online fashion company aimed at young adults,  is something of an e-commerce phenomenon, experiencing continuous growth for the last 18 years.  But pressures on margins mean the company has to find new ways to attract and keep customers, as to maintain profit growth, they need to sell more.

Earlier this year ASOS test-launched their Virtual Catwalk on their app, which gives customers a different perspective on their clothing.   You navigate to the item you are interested in, point your phone at a flat surface and click the ‘AR’ button on the product page.  You then see a model in the clothes you have chosen, walking up and down in front of you, so helping you to visualise the way the item looks whilst being worn.

ASOS is also testing other high tech functionality, such as Fit Assistant which uses machine learning to create bespoke sizing recommendations based on previous purchases and returns information.  If customers answer three questions about their height, weight and fit preference, their results are even more accurate.   With returns being a huge issue for e-commerce, it’s a function that helps customers choose the correct item and overcomes the need to order more than one size at a time.


American home furnishing and décor e-commerce company Wayfair stocks over ten million products from over 10,000 suppliers.  They recently introduced ‘View in Room 3D’ an AR feature that helps their customers to realistically visualise their goods within their home using a smartphone, effectively turning the shopper’s home into a virtual showroom.

The aim of the app is to help customers address questions such as ‘will this sofa go with my curtains?’ or ‘will this table fit in this space?’.  The AR technology projects items in 3D and at full scale into a photo of a room.  The result is that users can get a real feel for not only the size and aesthetics of the product, but how it will affect the overall feel of their room. The 3D nature of it means you can ‘walk’ around to see how it looks from all sides.  And a recent update to the app means you can record a video of the product in your room that can be shared with others.

It’s easy to see the potential for this technology for e-retail.  By simplifying the customer’s decision process and allowing them to try unlimited choice before purchase,  it overcomes the traditional lack of commitment that online shoppers often experience, whilst reducing post-sale hassle.  And ultimately, retailers with a physical presence can reduce overheads by removing the need for large showroom or retail space.

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