How Augmented Reality Could Change the Way You Shop

A marriage of physical and virtual experiences

Key Takeaways

  • Snap has purchased Vertebrae, which lets companies create and manage digital 3D versions of their products, to help develop an AR shopping extension in Snapchat.
  • Experts say augmented reality can give shoppers a chance to view goods more realistically than photos and videos can.
  • Some say that AR can also open new doors for customer service, which ties heavily into the shopping experience.
Someone using augmented reality on a smart phone.

UNIBOA / Unsplash

Experts say augmented reality (AR) could open new avenues to shopping and new ways for companies to offer customer support during the process.

Snap’s bet on augmented reality being a huge component of its services moving forward isn’t a secret. From the development of its Spectacles—smart AR-powered glasses—to the most recent acquisition of Vertebrae, a company that lets clients make 3D models of their products for customers to view in the digital space, Snap’s push for AR has been expanding slowly but surely.

It isn’t the only company pushing for AR support in the shopping experience, though, and experts say adding in AR ultimately could enhance how we shop for new products, both in-person and in digital spaces.

"Given the exponential rise of e-commerce throughout the pandemic, getting people back to brick and mortar is going to present challenges. What I think people miss most about shopping IRL [in real life] is the tactile experience of trying things on," Nasya Kamrat, the CEO of Faculty, told Lifewire in an email.

"I think augmented reality can assist in that by making it so maybe you don’t have to try on 15 items at a time, just one, and then see other patterns on your body,"

Weaving Together

Kamrat, whose company focuses on using spatial storytelling to help brands create new consumer experiences, says that AR will never fully replace in-person shopping experiences. Instead, she says that weaving AR and those in-person experiences together is the key to making AR work in that environment.

"I think what’s missing is that AR companies are focused on AR while traditional retail experiences are solely about the physical footprint."

"I think what’s missing is that AR companies are focused on AR while traditional retail experiences are solely about the physical footprint. What will make AR successful in the retail space is the marriage of the two for a comprehensive and curated experience for the consumer," she explained.

Instead of AR being a complete replacement for in-person shopping, Kamrat says that it is a tech solution that can be used to make that experience easier. She also says that’s tricky to balance because in-person shopping is dictated by so many different things that just can’t be replicated in the digital space—like how fabric feels against your skin or whether or not an item smells the way you want it to smell.

Instead of focusing on how AR can replace the current experience, Kamrat says companies must focus on what they can’t replicate and fill in the gaps around that with the things they can do to create a fluid marriage between the physical and digital spaces.

New Roads

Augmented reality has seen more and more adoption over the past few years. Many popular apps and games have used it to enhance the player experience, allowing users to interact with digital items within their physical space.

Someone using an AR shopping app in a grocery store.

Bernhard Lang / Getty Images

AR has become so predominant in apps that Snap says 73% of people can successfully identify it when they see it. Snap also claims that 75% of the global population and almost all smartphone users will be frequent users of AR by 2025.

AR could see a huge increase in viability within shopping and other everyday activities if those numbers are true. Signs of that are already showing, too. On top of enhancing how we shop, AR opens new doors for how companies can interact directly with consumers.

Other AR-based programs like Streem allow customer service agents to connect directly with customers, allowing them to use AR to help diagnose issues with their products and then provide proper support to help resolve the issue.

Ultimately, though, it’s a matter of using AR as a tool of enhancement. It won’t fully replace those specific in-person experiences, as it can’t deliver on the same tactile and physical responses that those bring.

Instead, as Kamrat said, companies need to focus on combining the two to create a perfect blend that lets customers experience in-person physicality, while also offering better assistance and solutions in the augmented space.

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