Online shopping is so popular that many brick-and-mortar stores – both large and small – are finding it harder and harder to remain solvent. Online shopping offers an endless selection of goods and materials, highly competitive pricing, and the ultimate in convenience. So it’s little surprise that so many people are opting to shop online these days, rather than brave the real world. But what of the future? Can we expect online shopping to evolve and change as technology continues to improve? All signs point to yes, with augmented reality playing a key role.
Augmented Reality: What Is It?
If you’ve played Pokémon Go, then you’ve experienced augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, which places you inside a wholly digital environment through goggles or looking glasses, augmented reality brings the virtual into your world. Typically, this is done using a display tied to a camera, such as a smartphone or television monitor. For example, if you point your camera at foreign text using Google’s Translate app, the text will appear to translate in real time, right in front of you. The effect is amazing, and can prove tremendously helpful if you’re traveling overseas and don’t know the language. Thus, you can see that the technology is aptly named. It “augments” your reality, rather than bringing you into a virtual one.
The technology is already used in a variety of ways. In the case of Pokémon Go, augmented reality makes it appear as if a Pokémon monster is standing on the sidewalk right in front of you. On the other end of the spectrum, many high-end retailers are finding that augmented reality helps provide a more rewarding in-store shopping experience. Why walk to the changing room with five items at a time when you can try on an entire wardrobe through augmented reality? This is the idea behind augmented reality in stores. But could this technology find its way into the home? Could it enhance the online shopping experience? The answer is “yes,” and some retailers, like IKEA, are already trying it.
Augmented Reality Meets E-Commerce
Noted Swedish furniture retailer IKEA first toyed with augmented reality as far back as 2013, and the company is currently in talks with Apple to launch its next-generation e-commerce mobile app to do the same. The augmented reality technology enables shoppers to photograph their house or view it using their smartphone’s camera in order to see how various pieces of furniture will look within the home. Because the furniture models are rendered in 3D, the overall effect can be very convincing – in practice, the technology allows a person to “window shop” IKEA’s entire catalog without ever having to leave the house. Do you have your eye on a particular leather couch? With the app, you can see what it will actually look like next to your other pieces of furniture. That, ultimately, is the promise of augmented reality; it brings the virtual world into the real world.
With 5G technology promising to provide unparalleled wireless speed and bandwidth capacity in the very near future, the infrastructure will finally exist to help the reality of augmented reality catch up with the dream of augmented reality. Retailers will be able to offer you discounts and promotions in real time, based on your location (should you opt in, of course). You’ll be able to look at products in all dimensions, and see how they’ll look in the home (or on your body). And it’s conceivable that retailers might even provide you with real time directions to their nearest location, by cross-referencing your GPS. Have McDonald’s app installed on your device? If you’re using your camera while out and about, the app could use augmented reality to pinpoint you in the direction of the nearest store. Some might find this a bit obtrusive, but the possibilities are nearly endless.
What Will Your Future Shopping Experience Be?
Augmented reality can be used in a myriad of different ways. In fact, all of the ways which AR technology can be put to use likely haven’t been thought of yet. The technology is still in its relative infancy, after all. That being said, there’s little doubt that all of the elements are now (or soon will be) in place to make it mainstream. Pokémon Go has demonstrated that quite conclusively. So don’t be surprised if it becomes a part of your online shopping experience in the near future. You could soon be trying on those clothes, rather than wishing and praying that they look good on you!
About the Author
Jessica Oaks is a freelance journalist who loves to cover technology news and the way that technology can make life easier. She is also an editor at www.freshlytechy.com. Follow her on Twitter @TechyJessy.