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Part 1: Why augmented reality will power the new e-commerce

This is the first article in a two-part series on augmented reality. Come back tomorrow for part two.

A picture tells a thousand words and, according to Gartner, 74 per cent of people are most likely to engage with an e-commerce website that uses photos.

What if pictures could be projected into the real world and brought to life in 3D? This is augmented reality (AR) where consumers can engage and interact in the real world.

So, what is AR and how is it different to virtual reality (VR)? Often the terms VR and AR get lost in translation, but it is important to understand the difference.

VR is an entirely immersive technology that uses hardware to take us into a completely computer generated environment. AR on the other hand uses devices or wearables to add a digital layer to our surrounding environment, essentially creating an extension of the real world through computer enhancement.

With two exciting emerging technologies available to consumers, which way do businesses need to be looking to invest and grow?

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has made his support of AR over VR clear, suggesting it would be the “larger of the two, probably by far”.

Cook argues that it “gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things visually for both of us to see…maybe it is someone else here who’s not here present but who can be made to appear to be present”, whereas “virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool but probably has a lower commercial interest over time”.

As AR is becoming more widely understood it has become a key area for business success by many industries and as such businesses are investing accordingly.

Digit-Capital predicts “that by 2020 the AR industry will be producing $120 Billion in revenue”.

Not only will the consumers of this technology be investing, but software giants such as Microsoft and Apple are deep in development on their own AR-specific hardware to bring to the market.

Microsoft released the developer version of its HoloLens headset in early 2016. It has since been used for numerous experimental projects, recently being used at London Fashion Week to see the full 2017 collection come to life in front of the audience in the form of holograms.

Apple clearly have AR hardware on the cards for 2017 with many recent outlets reporting them to be developing similar hardware based on recent patent applications.

Given the investment interest and emerging tools for AR experience, how can e-commerce benefit from AR today?

Like all new technologies, it is important to understand the problems that it can solve and the benefits it can provide to end users. AR has a business benefits list a mile long and by using 3D and interactive components, the applications are soon to be limitless.

One of the primary benefits being harnessed by the retail industry is the ability to enable consumers to make more informed decisions about their purchases. This has been shown to reduce product returns as well as engage them in new products before their release.

In the early stages of the technology, it also can provide an engaging point of difference for marketing. But the technology is moving fast with Gartner expecting 100 million people shopping with AR by 2020.

Come back tomorrow to read about specific applications for AR in part two of this article.

Rupert Deans is the CEO and founder of Plattar.

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