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How to Build Brand Loyalty Through Augmented Reality Combining AR and 3D experiences into a website is increasingly vital to foster customer engagement and brand loyalty.

By David Ripert Edited by Matt Scanlon

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No less than 75% of consumers now expect retailers to offer an augmented reality (AR) experience when it comes to shopping, according to "The Mobile AR Opportunity in Retail Report" by Business Insider Intelligence. Furthermore, it has been shown that if a retailer wants to attract consumers back to stores and be viewed as cutting-edge, it needs to incorporate digital technologies as a touchpoint along the customer buying journey.

Now more than ever, AR has become a core element of a brand's overall marketing and ecommerce strategy. With the rise of in-store COVID-19 health concerns, normal shopping habits have drastically changed. Recent studies show that consumers have increased fears about physically touching products, so by allowing them to preview goods in a digital way through AR, retailers are able to ease their minds. However, many brands are still struggling to find their footing when it comes to creating virtual and interactive content.

What does 3D + AR equal? 2x shopping conversion rates

This required strategy applies to everyone, not just brick-and-mortar stores, and if done correctly, AR experiences can increase conversion rates up to 200% (according to a study by the AR-focused company, Adloid), not to mention significantly decrease returns. Why the uptick? Simply put, integrating AR into the customer journey provides a unique digital experience that ultimately encourages consumers to spend more time with a brand. Take, for example, the high-end department store, John Lewis & Partners. During the holidays, the retailer launched a "Virtual Christmas Tree" augmented reality iOS feature in which shoppers could test a range of virtual Christmas trees via mobile phones. In this fun and engaging shopping experience, customers were able to choose from a variety of ornaments, turn lights on and off and purchase a tree directly from a smartphone or tablet. As a result, shoppers spent more time with the John Lewis brand (an average of nearly two minutes of active play time spent on the app), which enabled the retailer to build higher brand retention and double its annual holiday conversion rates.

Related: 5 Reasons Why AR and VR Strategy is a Must for Your Business

Virtual Christmas trees are just one example. If brands and retailers can rewire their thinking around ecommerce, there's a myriad of ways to redescribe the physical storefront. By embracing this new AR virtual paradigm, they can tap into new audiences, encourage consumers to spend more time with them and ultimately facilitate the shopping experience, which will in turn increase sales and profits.

From 2D to 3D: why brands should embrace AR "try-on"

One obstacle many brands and retailers face is the availability and general understanding of 3D. In the form of photos and videos, a majority of brands today have long lived in the 2D format, and haven't had the resources or understanding to create 3D experiences, but it's something they badly need to examine.

Consider the swimwear brand Speedo's virtual reality "try-on" system for mobile platforms (as well as in three of its UK stores). This experience allowed customers to don swimming goggles before purchase, using facial recognition. Shopping for goggles is often inconvenient, as customers typically have to try them one by one to find a style that's comfortable. The actual try-on experience is also inconvenient for stores, due to having to replace/repackage opened products. But via AR, visitors can virtually try on 35 types of goggles — empowering them by saving time and facilitating better purchasing choices.

With this feature, Speedo joined the ranks of try-on tech adherents, a trend that's set to revolutionize online shopping across many retail brands. Through this and other AR applications, retailers can significantly improve the overall shopping experience and achieve higher customer satisfaction.

Related: 4 Ways to Use AI to Enhance the Customer Experience

There are three concepts brands and retailers should keep in mind in applying AR:

1. Replacing disruptive video ads

For at least a decade, it seemed gospel that to effectively engage with consumers, you had to launch a somewhat disruptive video ad. I'm certain you've all experienced a time when you're in the middle of watching a YouTube video and all of a sudden were jarred by a video ad you couldn't click out of. That, not surprisingly, typically results in a negative experience for the consumer. With AR, consumers are willingly engaged within a virtual environment and are able to experience different virtual elements that are both interactive and engaging.

2. Reinventing the "store of the future" with social commerce

There are a multitude of ways brands can create immersive shopping experiences to reach new audiences and generate sales in a virtual world. The overarching goal is to not only offer a physical display, but also a virtual or in-store experience that increases consumer engagement. Take for example the premium eyewear brand, Ray-Ban. Not only is the company integrating virtual try-on features directly through Instagram, it has also partnered with Facebook in the release of its first pair of smart glasses. Together, they created "Ray-Ban Stories" — offering consumers the ability to capture photos and videos without needing to pull out their phone. It also allows for users to capture video and images and upload them to their social accounts using an app called Facebook View.

And we're also seeing other brands incorporate AR directly into websites. One example is Murus Art, an ecommerce site for contemporary art. When visitors are browsing paintings on its website, they can visualize them on their wall — a novel application of the try-on principle.

3. Accelerating ecommerce with 3D and AR

A majority of retailers are still working through their own moves to new tech, and are struggling with the costs, among other challenges. Creating 3D models of products, for example, can be difficult on a budget, as they usually require someone to manually create the digital model. However, with the development of photogrammetry technology — in which hundreds of photos of a product are taken from different angles to build a virtual model — we could see 3D modelling budgets drop significantly, and a cumbersome process sped up.

Such models are inherently engaging ways for customers to visualize products, but if AR is also incorporated — enabling customers to essentially see products in their physical environment or on their body — an even more immersive experience is created. It all comes down to educating retailers, so that they understand the necessary actions they need to take when integrating AR tech.

Bottom line: No matter the industry, increased consumer engagement with 3D and AR leads to higher shopping conversion rates. By deploying a successful virtual experience, retailers can keep consumers engaged in a way that traditional shopping can't, and likely never will. And because consumers are typically loyal to their favorite brands, AR can significantly and positively impact that relationship over the long run.

Related: Here's Your Solution to Creating 3D Animations on an Entrepreneur's Budget

David Ripert

CEO & Founder of Poplar Studio

David Ripert is CEO and co-founder of Poplar Studio, the world-leading platform for 3D and AR in marketing, advertising and retail. As the former head of YouTube studios in EMEA, he has over 19 years of leadership experience with companies, including Google, YouTube, Netflix and Cap Gemini E&Y.

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