Guest Column | September 23, 2022

3 Ways AR And VR Will Transform Shopper Habits

By David Chen, Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc.


Shoppers are always in search of the new and different. By definition, “to shop” means visiting stores in search of the unexpected. From the rise in shopping malls in the 1960s to the introduction in 1994 of an obscure online bookstore named Amazon, customers have continually been drawn to innovations that make buying easier, less expensive, more convenient, and more exciting.

eCommerce, while clearly the biggest development in retailing in decades, is only the latest transformative milestone. There are more in the near future; two, in particular, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), will soon take retailing into another dimension altogether.

Unequaled Experiences

AR did not appear at the same time as smartphones—the underlying technology has been around for decades—but it’s questionable whether it would be taking on the shopping world without them. As a result, the uses for AR are exploding.

In essence, AR can be used either to capture reality or to enhance it. Capturing involves using specialized 3D imaging to scan a person, room, building, or scene, or to identify a person or object. Enhancing, the other primary AR function places a virtual object into a real-time camera rendition of a room or scene. Made popular by Pokémon GO, enhancement is enabling information, descriptions of goods and services, and even traffic hazards and navigation aids to be superimposed not only on smartphone screens but also on vehicle windshields and other places.

VR, on the other hand, allows users to enter an immersive, interactive world through the use of headsets and soon, VR glasses. VR is the enabling technology behind the metaverse—the much-heralded alternative reality that will enable untold numbers of customized experiences.

Putting AR/VR To Work

For many people, AR and VR will soon redefine their shopping lives. There are ways retailers can already leverage these two innovative technologies to get in front of their competitors and create new possibilities for shoppers:

Virtual stores. Reconstructing a brick-and-mortar flagship store in the metaverse involves recreating a physical store in minute detail, typically through the use of a 3D imaging device. In addition to virtual browsing, 3D scanning will allow retailers to stage demonstrations and live shows on VR devices. The ability to browse, compare, and pick up items virtually will allow customers to have a complete shopping experience, anytime and anywhere. Soon people will be even able to make actual purchases using their avatar.

Try before you buy. IKEA is well known for its IKEA Place app that lets customers virtually place furniture in their homes before purchasing. But many other opportunities are out there that allow customers to examine and evaluate products before purchasing. 3D scanning allows retailers to quickly reconstruct virtual duplicates of products for uploading to websites; the three-dimensional “twins” can be viewed from any angle to make better buying choices.

People also can use AR features on their smartphones to try out personal items. Warby Parker makes it easy to try on glasses virtually, while Sephora Virtual Artist, a smartphone app, lets customers try out cosmetics on a scan of their face. Users can get a virtual makeover, star in their own tutorials, and share the results with friends.

Reduce exchanges/returns. Digital scans, virtual fitting booths, color trials, 360-degree views, and other 3D capabilities not only increase customer satisfaction but also quickly pay for themselves by reducing the need for costly returns and exchanges. SizeStream, a maker of fitting room technology, is just one example; using a mobile device in a fitting booth, it captures customers’ body measurements, enabling the buyer to sample the fit of any number of clothing items in seconds.

While many applications of AR and VR are in their infancy, there are more than enough mature uses for retailers to begin exploring. Customers are enthralled by the new experiences that these exciting technologies deliver. Success, in many cases, will belong to the stores that deliver them first.

About The Author

David Chen is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc.