As tech giants continue to invest in AR, could greater consumer traction be stimulated by non-tech players? This thought bubbled up as Walmart continues to raise its AR game. For example, its ‘View in Your Home’ feature lets shoppers visualize furniture and decor through AR.
Of course, this isn’t a new concept, as AR has proven effective to help consumers get a better sense of product dimensions. It’s been applied by everyone from Ray-Ban to Ikea, and was further amplified in the Covid era when AR helped bring back IRL dimension to eCommerce.
But for Walmart, its forays into AR are more notable than most retailers. Its scaled touchpoints with everyday consumers could accelerate AR’s traction. And as that wide reach acclimates consumers to AR en masse, the technology could evolve from shopping enhancement to expectation.
In a similar sense, another high-reach player has ratcheted up its AR efforts: Amazon. It recently launched a shoe try-on feature and partnered with Snap to bring more AR shopping to Snapchat. The latter marries Amazon’s eCommerce functionality with Snap’s AR discovery engine.
Going deeper on Walmart’s View in Your Home, it offers haptic feedback, which separates it from many other AR shopping features on the market today. This makes your smartphone vibrate as you move virtual 3D models up against walls or beyond a given room’s boundaries.
This gives it an additional immersive feel, true to the goal of fusing the physical and digital. Beyond UX, it’s also about providing functionality and utility in fitting a piece of furniture into one’s room. Haptics joins visuals for an additional UX element to help shoppers get the job done.
But to pull this off requires room scanning and machine learning. These tools help AR apps gain more geometric and semantic understanding. The former is all about sensing room contours, while the latter is about context: The app knows that a wall is a wall and a table is a table.
Meanwhile, underlying technology continues to advance such as LiDAR. Though it’s not ubiquitous in smartphones, LiDAR will trickle down over the next few product cycles. Other factors continue to democratize advanced room scanning, such as Apple’s Room Plan SDK.
As we examined recently, Room Plan offers computational heavy lifting. App developers can pick up and run with it while spending all their time and focus on the front-end UX. We should see many more utilitarian apps result – everything from online shopping to DIY projects.
Fit & Style
Beyond consumer benefits, a more visually-informed shopper can help brands and retailers like Walmart. For one, AR visualization has demonstrated an ability to boost conversions and basket sizes. It can also reduce returns, which are collectively a $550 billion annual headache.
But for AR to reach these goals, products have to be shoppable. This combination of AR visualization and easy check-out functions continues to be cultivated. And it’s a key feature in Walmart’s latest implementation, given a “buy now” feature that flows from the AR visualization.
Meanwhile, AR’s use in shopping has been popular for bulky items like cars and couches. It has also gained traction around anything that goes on one’s face, given facial tracking advancements and the virality of selfies. We’re talking about everything from eyewear to cosmetics.
Next up for Walmart is to extend AR to other product categories. These include flat-screen TVs, given fit and style nuances that AR can simulate. Look for AR to continue unlocking other products from Walmart and others as consumers get further acclimated to the technology.
Speaking of acclimation, that brings us full circle to the concept of mainstreaming AR. Historically, technology in eCommerce (such as digital images) starts as an enhancement, then elevates to expectation. And that’s when brand and retailer adoption can really inflect.