AR in retail: Why you need it in your marketplace

AR in retail: Why you need it in your marketplace

Cart abandonment and product returns are a massive headache for online retailers. Customers are often unsure about fit, size, or how an item will actually look once delivered. So they hesitate to hit "buy." This uncertainty directly impacts your bottom line. But there's a powerful solution: augmented reality.

With AR in retail, customers can virtually try on clothes to validate sizing. Or they can see a 3D rendering of furniture or appliances in their actual rooms. They can also mix, match, and experiment with multiple products far beyond static website images. Not only does this increase conversions but also keeps people browsing your offerings longer. More time immersed equals more opportunities for upsells.

And the data shows serious ROI. Companies using 3D and AR can see 40% fewer returns and a 2x lift in conversions. Who wouldn't want numbers like that?

In this article, we'll explore how augmented reality provides an unbeatable eCommerce experience that boosts sales and fosters customer loyalty.

How AR wins over the world of retail

You've probably seen AR before, even if you didn't know what it was called. Remember those fun filters on Snapchat or Instagram that put animations on your face? That's a simple form of AR — mixing digital images with the real world. In fact, people spent 24% more time on Instagram after the launch of AI-powered Reels.

2016 was a huge year for AR. Pokemon Go took the world by storm, and millions of people caught virtual Pokemon in the real world. This game showed the mass appeal of AR software development.

What started as just a novelty has grown into a powerful technology that's changing how we use our devices and the internet. After that, the tech giants got serious about the benefits of AR. Google, Apple, and others released AR developer tools. This made it easier to develop custom software for retail with AR features.

AR in retail solves one of the biggest hurdles to making sales: uncertainty over how products actually look and fit in the real world. Static website pictures and descriptions only help so much. But visualizing items in your own environment through augmented reality? That gives shoppers much more transparency and confidence. Clothing stores were among the first to see the potential value of AR application development. With virtual try-on apps, customers can more accurately check sizing and fit before buying. 

But the possibilities extend far beyond fashion. Home goods stores use AR to let buyers easily place 3D-rendered couches, appliances, decor, and more into a virtual model of their actual rooms. No more struggling to envision how pieces will fit.

Makeup, accessories, consumer electronics — nearly every consumer market stands to benefit from AR. The use cases are limited only by creativity and the willingness to embrace AR as the future of immersive shopping experiences.

The Deloitte report gives some numbers on why you should actually incorporate AR into your eCommerce store:

  • Items using AR get nearly twice as much attention compared to regular non-AR products.
  • Brands with AR experiences have a 41% better chance of attracting shoppers compared to brands without AR.
  • Around 3 out of every 4 customers say they'll pay more when a company uses AR to give them full transparency on a product before buying.
  • 55 out of every 100 shoppers say AR technology is important for making the whole shopping experience more enjoyable and satisfying.
The Deloitte report infographic

The data clearly shows that augmented reality can be a huge boost for online stores. But as you look into using AR in eCommerce, you might also hear about some other related tech like mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR). It's good to understand the key differences between them.

AR vs. VR vs. MR: What’s the difference?

Let’s first define AR clearly. It’s a technology that lets you see digital images, animations, or 3D objects overlaid on the real world around you through your phone, tablet, or special AR glasses. 

Virtual reality is a totally different experience. VR headsets block out the real world completely and put you inside a fully artificial digital environment created by computers. You can look around and interact as if you're physically there, but it's all make-believe.

Virtual reality is quickly catching up to augmented reality. Various brands have already built virtual reality stores. Ferragamo, a luxury fashion house, even created an augmented product called the "House of Gifts" that virtually transports shoppers into the Italian villa featured in their holiday ad campaign video.

Mixed reality is somewhere between AR and VR. It doesn't just overlay flat graphics but actually anchors those 3D virtual objects into your real space using advanced mapping. 

Apple's Vision Pro headset is a prime example of mixed reality. It merges virtual 3D content with your actual environment in real-time using outward-facing cameras and sensors. Instead of being fully immersed in a digital realm like VR, you can still see and interact with your physical surroundings while virtual visuals are anchored into that space.

AR vs. VR vs. MR

Some brands have already been using Vision Pro to make their online shopping more immersive. We’ll discuss these examples later. For now, let's switch gears and look at the main types of AR.

Types of augmented reality apps

There are two main types of AR apps: web-based AR and mobile AR applications. Let’s break them down.

Web-based AR

Web-based AR apps don't require you to download any special software. They run right within your internet browser on a computer or mobile device. All you need is a compatible browser and a web camera.

Web AR experiences are powered by technologies like WebXR and WebGL, which create 3D graphics and map them to real-world surfaces through your browser. As we’ve mentioned, the main advantage of web AR is its accessibility — no extra app install is needed. The downside is that it can't directly access your device's camera and sensors for more immersive AR capabilities.

Mobile AR

On the flip side, mobile AR applications are native apps built specifically for iOS or Android operating systems. They leverage the full camera and sensor suite of your smartphone or tablet.

The benefits of AR for mobile are enhanced realism, better motion tracking, and access to depth sensors for improved environmental understanding. The trade-off is you have to download a dedicated app.

Many developers build both web-based and native mobile AR versions to cover all bases. Web AR reaches the biggest audience with less friction, while mobile unlocks more immersive possibilities through device integration. Regardless you opt for AR web development or decide to build an app, you can use AR in different ways.

Augmented reality for eCommerce: Capabilities and options

There are several approaches and use cases you can leverage to unleash the potential of augmented reality in business. 

Social commerce AR integration

Social commerce combines social media with eCommerce to allow direct purchasing from those platforms. And AR in retail plays a huge role in making these social shopping experiences more engaging.

On apps like Instagram and TikTok, you can create AR camera filters or lenses that customers can use to virtually "try on" products. These could be fun animated makeup looks, accessories like sunglasses, or even clothing and shoes.

Social commerce AR integration example
Source: Mashable

For a shoe business, you might create an eCommerce augmented reality filter that lets users virtually place different sneaker styles onto their feet through the camera view. Customers can mix and match, change colors, and see exactly how the shoes would look on them from all angles.

It's an interactive way to showcase full collections beyond basic pictures or videos. And shareable too! Users can snap selfies or videos with the AR shoes and share them on social media, providing exposure for your brand.

But it's not just for marketing — social AR experiences drive direct purchasing as well. The filters could directly link to the shoppable products. So, if someone loves how those sneakers look on them, there's an easy path to buy instantly without leaving the app.

Virtual try-on 

Virtual try-on uses AR in retail to let customers see exactly how clothing or accessories would look on them.

Virtual try-on example
Source: Time and Tide Watches

The biggest benefit of virtual try-ons is increasing confidence to purchase. Removing uncertainties around fit and styling reduces hassles like returns or exchanges down the road. Shoppers can buy with confidence, knowing they already accurately visualized how the item will look and fit. No more crossed fingers.

Preview placement

Preview placement allows customers to visualize exactly how furniture and home decor items would look in their own spaces before buying. With an augmented product, shoppers can project true-to-scale 3D models of sofas, tables, lamps, etc., into their actual living room, bedroom, or any other room.

Preview placement example
Source: Paul Reiffer

For furniture retailers, this solves a major hurdle — not being able to physically show how big pieces will look and fit in customers’ homes. Those tiny website pictures barely give them a sense of actual size and scale.

Some apps even let users virtually rearrange and experiment with different furniture setups by dragging and dropping the eCommerce augmented reality models around. It's an interactive way for customers to plan out their dream room design.

Interactive manuals

Interactive AR manuals are a big win for your business. They make product instructions way more user-friendly through animated 3D visuals. 

Instead of confusing text and tiny diagrams that prompt a flood of questions, AR guides show users exactly what to do. Animated arrows, circles, and virtual hands map the steps to the real product.

Interactive manuals example
Source: Hyundai

Far fewer support tickets is one of the biggest augmented reality advantages. Customers can simply follow along without getting stuck and needing to contact your support department. Companies using it provide a modern, visual-first experience that empowers customers to self-serve successfully.

You could even charge for premium AR support subscriptions. As AR in eCommerce improves, these animated guides will only get better.

Now that you know potential augmented reality uses, let's look at some eCommerce giants putting AR into practice and leading the way.

How brands use augmented reality for eCommerce: Examples

From virtual try-ons that boost confidence in sizing to room visualization that removes the guesswork around dimensions, businesses across all verticals use augmented reality for eCommerce.

But don't just take our word for it. Here are some examples of leading eCommerce brands that have already recognized the benefits of AR.

AR in fashion

Zara was an early adopter of using AR for virtual try-ons in its mobile app. The camera allows customers to see how apparel appears in various colors and styles.

Similarly, Warby Parker leverages AR so customers can try different eyeglass frame styles from every angle using just their phone. It solves the pain point of being unsure how frames will actually look on customers’ faces when shopping online.

Luxury brands have gotten in on AR, too. Cartier created an AR experience that allows prospective buyers to get up-close virtual views of their iconic jewelry and watches. Customers can inspect every detail before committing to such high-priced purchases.

AR in fashion example
Source: Cartier

Home furnishings

IKEA has been a trailblazer for immersive AR apps in this space. Their augmented product lets shoppers virtually place 3D-rendered furniture pieces into their actual rooms. They can walk through, rearrange, and get a true sense of scale and style to optimize furniture arrangements.

Wayfair built a whole experience called "View in Room" that uses AR to serve realistic 3D models of lamps, rugs, couches, and more. Customers can confidently purchase knowing exactly how they will look in their homes.

Using AR in home furnishings
Source: IKEA

Personal care

AR has been huge for the cosmetics industry as well. L'Oreal's Makeup Genius App utilizes AR try-on capabilities that let customers experiment with various makeup looks and colors virtually.

Sephora launched a similar AR makeup experience, along with AI-based lip tracking to realistically map virtual lipstick shades onto customers' actual lip movements.

Using AR in personal care
Source: Sephora

No matter the industry, brands are getting increasingly creative in using AR to bridge the gap between digital and physical experiences. Apple's Vision Pro headset promises to take immersive shopping even further.

New shopping realms with Apple Vision Pro

Apple Vision Pro headset is unlocking whole new shopping worlds for brands. Several big names have already created dedicated apps.

Take Alo Yoga's "alo Sanctuary" app. It starts by surrounding you with peaceful nature scenes to relax and meditate. But then you can browse their latest yoga clothes rendered in super realistic 3D. The details on the clothing textures look amazingly lifelike.

"alo Sanctuary" app
Source: "alo Sanctuary" app

Makeup brand e.l.f has a fun, game-first approach. Their visionOS app hooks customers with a play first before smoothly transitioning to their actual product lineup.

J.Crew's virtual closet may be the most impressive so far. It shows hyper-realistic 3D clothing on a mannequin that shoppers can customize to their exact dimensions. They can zoom in insanely close on every fabric texture and color.

These are just early examples, but brands are already getting serious about using mixed reality to reinvent their augmented reality shopping experience. If you'd like your eCommerce business to join these innovators and stay ahead of the curve, we’ve prepared some tips for you.

How to integrate AR into your eCommerce platform

As AR evolves, the process of creating an eCommerce solution with AR experiences is getting easier. Let's walk through the key steps and considerations.

The basic implementation path

Integrating AR in retail means having 3D models of your products that can be overlayed into the real world via customer smartphone cameras. The most straightforward approach is:

  1. Building or acquiring photorealistic 3D product renderings compatible with AR
  2. Developing an AR viewer application for mobile apps/websites
  3. Adding AR activation triggers like QR codes to let customers launch the experience

Of course, specifics get more complex based on your ambition level.

What you need to do right

While the concept is simple, executing augmented reality for eCommerce requires the right resources and expertise. Having a team well-versed in computer vision, 3D modeling, and spatial computing, and AR app development is critical. Many eCommerce companies leverage external AR integration expertise. Photogrammetry equipment, such as cameras and software, is also needed to capture products from every angle for accurate 3D modeling. 

A typical AR development cost ranges from $50,000 on the low end to $500,000+ for robust multi-platform deployment across apps, web, ads, and packaging.

Pre-made solutions to consider

To reduce costs and speed up implementation, a growing number of "AR commerce" platforms offer turnkey solutions with bundled 3D modeling services. The benefits of pre-integrated AR platforms are simple plugin integrations with eCommerce platforms like Shopify and streamlined 3D rendering pipelines.

Some AR creation tools rising in popularity include:

For most merchants, these off-the-shelf solutions balance cost and capabilities enough to get started with AR. However, pre-made augmented reality platforms for eCommerce come with trade-offs in customization and flexibility. Since they're designed as one-size-fits-all solutions, you may be limited in tailoring AR experiences to your brand's unique look and feel. There's also potential for less control over iterating or adding advanced features as AR in eCommerce becomes more complex.

The best AR integration solves core eCommerce anxieties around product fit, sizing, visualization, and buyer's remorse and increases confidence to purchase.

So, whether pursuing basic 3D product rendering, virtual try-on, or immersive showrooms, always design the experience from the customer's perspective first. Get that right with a mindset of constant iteration, and the rest falls into place.

Bring AR to your eCommerce marketplace with COAX

Augmented reality is rapidly becoming a competitive necessity for eCommerce brands looking to survive and thrive. Basic website images and product descriptions just don't cut it anymore when customers expect rich, interactive visualization before hitting "buy." Using AR in retail provides that advantage.

The brands opting for AR app development services are the ones poised to leave competitors behind as demand for augmented reality shopping continues to skyrocket.

Luckily, you don't have to implement augmented reality for eCommerce alone. COAX has deep expertise in building custom marketplaces and full-fledged eCommerce platforms, including seamless AR integration. Our team of engineers has extensive knowledge in computer vision, 3D modeling, and all the latest AR/VR tools. 

But we don't just build experiences — we design them through a customer-centric lens aimed at maximizing engagement and return on investment. 

So, if you're ready to stop watching from the sidelines as competitors engage shoppers with immersive visualization, let’s innovate together. Take the first step and explore how our AR expertise can transform your brand experience.


1. What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality overlays digital visuals and information onto a real-world view through your device's camera. 

2. Why should I add AR to my online store?

AR helps shoppers better visualize products before purchasing. They can virtually "try on" items to see fit, colors, etc. This boosts confidence and reduces returns.

3. What are some common AR use cases for eCommerce?

Popular examples include virtual try-ons for clothing and accessories, furniture placement previews, interactive product manuals, and immersive product displays.

4. Is it difficult to implement AR for my website?

Not really. Many platforms and tools now make it relatively easy to add basic AR experiences without the complex coding required.

5. Do customers actually use and engage with augmented reality shopping?

Yes! Surveys show many online shoppers want AR capabilities. Brands leveraging AR report higher conversions and customer satisfaction.

6. Is an app required for AR, or can it work on mobile web too?

Both. You can build web-based AR using WebXR or create native mobile apps with AR toolkits like Apple's ARKit or Google's ARCore.

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