AR Series

What Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, & Mixed Reality Are All About

By Tangiblee
September 1, 2021

Last year, the pace of online retail leaped into the future by 5 years (at least according to one report).

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re likely well-aware of this acceleration. We don’t need to tell you how important it is or how much it’s “changing the game” of retail. You are already living and breathing this new shopping landscape.

The big question that may be on your mind is how to become part of this wave of change rather than getting left behind. There’s a powerful window of opportunity for e-commerce leaders to make our industry more relatable to the people who matter most — our shoppers.

So Where Do We Start?

Between 2020 and 2021, a record number of people tried online shopping for the first time. That means people are getting more comfortable with making purchases online.

It’s not just about comfort, either. Keep in mind that a lot of experts think that COVID-19 is here to stay. While it’s too early to tell, for sure, what the future holds (we sure hope the pandemic goes away!), we do know that people are going to be both shopping online and craving a real-world experience.

From window shopping to discovering new products — and trying them on — there’s a joy that comes with exploring stores in the real world. How do we translate that happiness and experience into a digital environment?

Enter Mixed Reality

We mentioned to you in last week’s post that our team at Tangiblee spent the last year building technology to create more real-world shopping experiences. We began this journey long before the pandemic.

We felt inspired given how many of our customers asked us about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). But we also learned that people were finding these augmented reality solutions to be expensive and technically challenging to implement.

When the pandemic hit, we knew that the best way to support our customers and our industry at large was to create technology to make the transition to digital, earlier.

Recently, people have been asking us to share more of our perspectives, particularly around the different types of mixed reality experiences that are possible to create. Here’s a quick overview:

Augmented Reality (A/R)

Augmented reality (A/R) apps use text, graphics, audio, and virtual enhancements to make real-world objects more interesting or true to life (Gartner has a longer definition that we like). Augmented reality can be experienced via a smartphone application, or most notably for e-Commerce, via web-browsers. AR helps shoppers envision products in real life.

In terms of e-Commerce, the goal of AR is to put products into the hands of their customers, without a brick-and-mortar storefront. This type of immersive experience is especially important for people who cannot or would prefer not to head to a store physically. The goal is to help shoppers preview a product on a personal level.

Common examples include social media filters, preview placements, and other interactive resources. In case you’re interested, BigCommerce has published a deeper discussion on these topics, here.

Regardless if an AR experience is based on a phone app or a web browser or other supported devices, there is an important factor to consider: 3D imagery.  

For e-Commerce AR solutions, the majority of options for retailers are optimized for 3D image rendering — particularly for furniture and home decor categories. But, not ALL AR solutions require 3D content — like our solution here at Tangiblee.  Our Virtual Try-On solution uses the same 2D images on your product pages. There are a lot of benefits but also a lot of hurdles to consider before diving into any 3D content — we’ll get into these details later, in a future article.

One example of AR is from Target, which launched its “see it in your space” app in 2017. Using the Target app,  people can visualize items in their home, in context, in 3D.

AR is an incredible technology. But a lot of retailers struggle to implement it. For one, AR apps can get expensive to build due to engineering requirements, usability testing, and the need to create custom images. Even after this extensive process, shoppers may have difficulty using these specialized apps depending on whether the app is easy to use.

Virtual Reality 

Virtual reality is most popular in the gaming industry. The technology enables the creation of immersive experiences using a headset. Through this headset, people interact with three-dimensional environments that “feel” like the real world.

If you’re interested in seeing what a virtual reality storefront is like, take a look at this demo that Walmart debuted at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2020:

The Core of Mixed Reality 

The value proposition of VR is undoubtedly promising. Imagine being able to put on a headset, go anywhere, and visit anyone. On the flip side, VR still has a lot of challenges. For one, people report experiencing irritability and eye strain. Mainstream adoption of VR may also be several years away.

No matter the medium, across AR or VR, mixed reality is about appealing to the human imagination through visual experiences. In e-commerce, the goal is to help people “see” what a product is like within the context of their lives. Technology is a means to an end for facilitating this goal — not a means to an end.

In our next post, we’ll dive deeper into the mechanics for how to navigate choosing the right tech — and what it’s like to get up and running with a mixed reality experience.

Until next time 🙃

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