Try Before You Buy with Augmented Reality

Published on January 4, 2022
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Filed under Selling Channels
Read time 11 Minutes

While ecommerce is a booming market, brick and mortar stores still offer one major advantage to shoppers. That is the ability to see and feel products.

But there’s nothing to fear, with the help of recent technology advances that gap is closing. The growing use of Augmented Reality, or AR, offers online shoppers ways to try products before they buy.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is a type of technology that superimposes information — sounds, images and text — on the world we see. Creating an interactive experience, users can enjoy a real-world experience from their smartphones, tablets or computers.

A popular example of AR is in the game Pokemon Go. The game allows people from all over the world to adventure through their real-world location to locate, capture, train, and battle virtual creatures using their smartphones.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

You may be more familiar with the term Virtual Reality, or VR. In VR, a user experiences a three-dimensional, computer-generated enhanced version of reality. People participate in this virtual environment using a headset. VR is common in video games.

This video clearly shows the differences between these types of reality:

Augmented Reality in “Try Before You Buy”

The use of AR in ecommerce has increased based on the growth of this technology. Initially, brands needed to hire companies to create this functionality from scratch, but times are changing. Personal care and beauty retailer, Sephora, worked with Modiface to create its Virtual Artist AR app.

Toronto-based Modiface has created AR apps for many beauty brands including L’Oréal​, Estée Lauder, Unilever, and Coty. In March, 2018, L’Oréal​ bought Modiface, which shined a spotlight on the importance of AR.

In recent years, Apple and Google have developed AR platforms. Apple released ARKit, AR functionality for iOS, and Google released ARCore, AR functionality for Android. This made it much easier for developers to build ecommerce apps with AR features, and has led to an more ecommerce platforms are starting to offer AR functionality.

While there are many ways AR has played a part in ecommerce, the most innovative application is the “try before you buy”model. This allows shoppers to virtually “try” products before making a purchase. It’s the closest thing to actually trying them out in a physical location.

Online shoppers have eagerly embraced AR in ecommerce. According to AdTaxi’s 2018 Online Shopping and Technology Trends Survey, 10% of respondents have used an AR app for a try before you buy experience, and 67% would never shop in-store for clothes if AR made that possible. As we are just at the beginning of this technology’s application in ecommerce, those numbers will likely continue to increase.

The application of try before you buy technology benefits online merchants in several ways, including:

  • Increased sales. According to a Digital Bridge report and noted in The Drum, “42% of shoppers think using AR would make it easier for them to make a decision and shorten the time between browsing and final purchase.” The more ways to make the online experience as informative as possible, the more likely it will lead to a sale.
  • Reduction in the number and costs of returns. Online returns average 30%, while brick and mortar returns average less than 10%. The biggest reason for this disparity is the ability to try items on before buying. Now with the AR option, ecommerce stores can offer customers the ability to try before they buy, helping customers make better purchase decisions, and decreasing returns.

Examples of “Try Before You Buy” AR in Ecommerce

Big retail brands have led the way in using AR for the try before you buy option. Some of these companies include Sephora, L’Oreal, Benefit, Wayfair, Lowe’s and IKEA to mention a few.

Sephora Virtual Artist

In January 2016, Sephora launched their AR app, Virtual Artist, that offered consumers a way to try on lipstick colors that Sephora sells.

“We hear all the time that our clients wish they could try on every lipstick we carry to find the right shade for them,” says Bridget Dolan, vice president of Sephora’s Innovation Lab, as reported in Digital Commerce 360.

For the many mobile users that make up Sephora’s customer base, Virtual Artist provides a great alternative to braving the crowded brick and mortar stores to try on makeup. To use Visual Artist, consumers can go to the Sephora website or download the free Sephora App, and choose the Sephora Virtual Artist tab. Today the AR functionality allows customers to virtually try on any shade of lipstick, eye makeup and full-face makeup looks.

Using an uploaded photo customers can try on different makeup options. They can apply filters to select products based on category, brand, color family, formulation or favorites. These choices can be saved and shared for input from friends, as well as to purchase them from the app.

Here’s is a real-life experience of the experience of a Sephora Virtual Artist app:


Wayfair was an early adopter of Apple’s ARKit and Google ARCore. It launched its shopping app on IOS devices in September of 2017. The app contained a “View in Room 3D” feature that provided customers a way to “easily discover, visualize and purchase their favorite furniture and décor.” In March of 2018, soon after Google’s ARCore launch, they launched their app with AR functionality for Android devices.

Here’s how the augmented reality feature works. First, shoppers search for products on the Wayfair app. They tap the “View in 3D” button beneath the product image to see it in their home. Products can be moved anywhere in the room, and viewed from every angle. If shoppers like what they see, they can purchase products through the app. The 3D products are true to size, so buyers don’t need to measure anything.

Here is a demonstration of the View in Room 3D feature:

Pure Cycles

Shopify, an ecommerce platform, launched AR functionality for its merchants in September of 2018. Shopify AR offers the ability for customers using the Safari browser on iOS 12 devices to view realistic and interactive versions of products in AR. In conjunction with the 3D Warehouse app, sellers can provide AR experiences by uploading 3D models and linking them to products they sell online.

One early adopter of the AR functionality on Shopify is Pure Cycles, a company that sells bicycles online and through brick and mortar stores.

Pure Cycle co-founder, Jordan Schau, enjoyed using AR-enabled apps in his daily life. When Shopify launched their AR solution, he began considering how he could integrate AR into his ecommerce store.

In a recent Shopify post, Schau said, “Getting someone to download an app [with AR capabilities], and then use that as their main shopping app offers major friction for the user. But having it just baked into the browser—Safari, which is already taking an increasing share of our traffic—I think it’s just going explode.”

Jordan and his team were excited about the possibilities of the 3D models created through Shopify AR. Unlike traditional product photography, online shoppers can experience the company’s products from every angle and part:

While Schau believes that walking into a shop and trying out the bike in person offers customers the best experience, the Shopify AR solution provides the next best thing.

The Future of Try Before You Buy AR in Ecommerce

Now that Apple and Google have developed AR platforms, expect to see more ecommerce companies incorporating try before you buy options through AR. If your company offers products that customers like to see, feel, and touch in person, consider implementing augmented reality into your business. By using this new technology, your company will stand out as one of the first to offer this important option to shoppers.

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Written by

Margie Zable Fisher

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