Shopper Experience

Augmented reality is transforming the try-on

Glasses brand eyebobs offers a look at how AR tools are becoming part of ecommerce.

a woman looking at a smartphone trying on glasses

eyebobs' virtual try-on allows shoppers a closer look. (Courtesy photo)

Offering a wide selection of expressive styles, Minneapolis-based glasses brand eyebobs seeks to match the specs to the personality. With the launch of the digital tool, the company is allowing shoppers to better see themselves in a new pair of frames.

Dubbed Virtual Try On, the feature combines a mobile device’s camera, facial feature recognition and a superimposed likeness of a product to offer a true-to-scale representation of what a pair of glasses would look like on a user’s face.

Available for 24 of its best-selling frames, Virtual Try On is designed to help customers shopping online to get a better sense of the product, just as they would in the store.

“We know that buying glasses online can be a real challenge. They sit at the forefront of your face and every person you make eye contact with is seeing this decision, so it’s not a choice to be made lightly,” said eyebobs Senior Director and Head of Growth Megan McMolnau, which began by making reading glasses in 2001 and has since expanded to a full assortment of frames sold through DTC, wholesale and three retail stores.

“We wanted to give customers the opportunity to get a feel for what eyebobs frames would look like on themselves from the comfort of their couch, a consumer sentiment we’re confident that will long outlive the pandemic,” McMolnau said.

eyebobs is among a wave of brands applying augmented reality (AR), in which an image seen on a device can enhance a view of the physical world, to ecommerce experiences. While many were introduced to AR through the game Pokemon Go, there were also plenty of early adopters in the retail space. Increasing adoption of digital shopping and software advancements have led AR to appear on plenty of lists for the top trends in ecommerce for 2022.

It could usher in a new phase of try-before-you-buy. Makeup counters, dressing rooms, shoe try-ons and even mirrors are all key tools used by physical stores that allow shoppers to get a sense of a product before purchase. Augmented reality can help to bring a key part of the in-person shopping experience to the digital realm: "How can I touch it, feel it and get a better sense of this product?" said Will Gee, CEO of Baltimore-based XR development studio Balti Virtual.

Tech enhancements have helped this area to evolve. In 2017, upgrades that came with the iPhone X and Apple’s release of the ARKit marked a major step forward. This opened the way for pioneering apps from Ikea, Wayfair, Warby Parker and Home Depot.

eyebobs was particularly impressed with how improvements to Lidar technology that were ushered in with the iPhone X could help users better see how a pair of glasses fit. The company worked with leading AR platform partner Vertebrae to bring it to life.

“Over the course of many months, they helped create 3D models of each frame in different colors measured down to the exact millimeter to give as accurate of a fit as possible for customers interacting with the technology on their phones,” McMolnau said.

In addition to web and mobile apps, social media platforms are making try-on tools available. With its camera-centered, mobile-first approach, Snapchat is an augmented reality original, and has been upgrading try-on tools. Now, Snapchat users can see what they look like in sneakers from Dior and clothes from Fendi, Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. Early in 2022, Snap added new filters that allow brands to showcase a variety of features from a product catalog within a single Lens and unveiled a partnership with MAC Cosmetics and Ulta Beauty that offers this tool for makeup try-on. Meanwhile, Pinterest brought social AR to home decor, allowing users to hold up their phone and visualize what a piece of furniture will look like in a space

screenshots of Pinterest's AR features

A look at Pinterest's augmented reality tools (Handout)

With more capabilities available, there are signs that consumers like shopping using augmented reality. According to a study by AR no-code design platform Camera IQ, 59% of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase a product they’ve seen visualized through AR, while 39% say they would prefer brands to use AR above other types of content. Of those who already used AR, 39% say they applied product visualizations, while 36% have completed virtual try-ons of clothing, makeup or accessories.

As with in-store experiences, there’s promise that adding try-on elements can ease the path to a sale. According to a study from Deloitte Digital and Snap, AR experiences lead to a 94% higher conversion rate.

“AR has real ROI," Gee said. When considering how an item fits in a room or making a side-by-side comparison, he said, "you have a better sense of what that is if you can physically and visually interact with it."

With emerging technologies come new ways of measuring success. For eyebobs, it’s a mix of engagement and conversions.

“Interaction and engagement is a critical measure of success for us,” said McMolnau.The company is measuring whether there is a notable conversion improvement among shoppers who use the tool. This helps to indicate whether it gave them the confidence to make a purchase. Post-purchase surveys also help the company understand if shoppers used the tool and found it helpful.

Building on the recent progress of augmented reality, McMolnau sees lots more transformation ahead in the coming years.

“Early adopter brands have already jumped on the tech but I foresee virtual try on being table stakes for growth oriented DTC companies, particularly those operating within the apparel and accessories categories, within the next five years,” McMolnau said.

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