Do AR Product Previews Actually Lead to Purchases [New Research]

The Way We Shop is Changing: The Rise of Augmented Reality Product Previews

"With AR, businesses are able to give customers unique experiences from the comfort of their homes." – Adobe

In 2019, a Nielsen global survey found that consumers listed Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as the top technologies they‘re seeking to assist them in their daily lives. As we enter 2024, major retailers are taking note of this demand and integrating immersive AR previews into their shopping experiences – both online and in-store.

The results are promising: 61% of shoppers prefer to make purchases from sites that offer AR technology, and 63% say AR would improve their shopping experience. Early adopters like Amazon, IKEA, Sephora, and others are already leveraging AR to create interactive, personalized customer journeys that boost purchasing confidence.

So how exactly are companies using AR to shape the future of retail? Let‘s dive in.

Augmented Reality & the Customer Experience: 3 Use Cases

There are three main ways brands are currently implementing AR product previews:

  1. Mobile Previews on Ecommerce Sites
    When browsing products on a mobile website or app, customers can click an "AR Preview" button to visualize the item in their space. For example, they can see how a piece of furniture would look in their living room, or if a pair of sunglasses suits their face shape. This helps answer common questions like "Will this couch fit in my apartment?" or "Do these frames flatter me?" without needing to visit a brick-and-mortar store.

2020 saw a surge in demand for this functionality due to pandemic lockdowns and the resulting ecommerce boom. Shopify reported a 250% increase in 3D model creation by their merchants over the course of the year. Even small businesses got in the game – like Portland-based Juju Supply, which used Shopify‘s AR tools to let customers preview their skating gear on Instagram and website product pages.

  1. Magic Mirrors & Smart Fitting Rooms
    For retailers with physical locations, in-store AR offers a "phygital" experience – blending the real-world immediacy of touching and feeling products with the endless aisle assortment of ecommerce. Smart mirrors and fitting rooms equipped with AR can scan a shopper‘s body to determine sizing, show color/pattern options not available in-store, and "virtually" try on outfits via a real-time overlay.

Timberland uses near-field communication (NFC) technology in their stores to launch AR experiences when shoppers touch certain items to a digital mirror. They can view additional product details, see suggested pairings, and even share their virtual try-ons on social media. It‘s a high-touch encounter meant to enrich the in-store experience.

  1. Interactive Social Media Filters
    Perhaps the most accessible AR product preview option for consumers is through filters and effects on social apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok. Brands can create custom, branded AR experiences which users unlock by following their account or scanning a QR code. They can then "try on" makeup, accessories, clothes, and more using their smartphone camera and share the results with friends.

Social media filters offer a low-friction entry point to AR for consumers who might not seek it out. There‘s also a strong element of social proof and virality – if you see someone you know (or an influencer you admire) using a cool branded effect, you‘re more likely to want to try it for yourself. Gucci is just one of many luxury fashion houses using AR filters to drive awareness and hype for new collections. Their virtual sneaker "try on", created in partnership with Wannaby, was a viral hit last year.

Why AR Works: The Psychology of Immersive Shopping

The emotional parts of our brains are stimulated by visuals more than text. Humans process images in as little as 13 milliseconds – 60,000x faster than text. By leveraging graphics, AR helps customers imagine owning a product in a deeper way than simply reading descriptions or specs.

Being able to picture and "experience" items in context also reduces purchase anxiety. 68% of online shoppers say they‘re more likely to buy from retailers that offer AR because it answers key questions and gives them a better sense of product quality. For big ticket items like furniture or luxury goods, AR builds buyer confidence without them needing to physically touch the product.

AR can even be a tool for reducing costly product returns. Over 50% of shoppers say they‘ve returned an online purchase because it looked different in person. By setting accurate expectations upfront with AR, retailers ensure customers know exactly what they‘re getting – minimizing disappointment upon receipt.

Looking Ahead: The Future of AR Product Marketing

In the coming years, AR will become a mainstream customer expectation rather than an exciting add-on. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 60% of consumers will prefer making purchases from brands that offer AR experiences. We‘ll see continued innovation in virtual try-on, product visualization, and interactive packaging.

One area ripe for disruption is social commerce. As influencer marketing evolves, digital creators will utilize AR to demo products directly within social media apps – removing friction from inspiration to purchase. Live commerce events could also incorporate AR, allowing viewers to "virtually browse" shoppable items in real-time as they watch streams. Pinterest is investing heavily here, with plans to make their whole platform "shoppable" via AR.

It‘s clear that immersive digital experiences will only grow in importance for capturing consumer attention and driving sales. But for small-medium businesses with limited resources, creating custom AR apps may not be feasible yet. So what‘s a brand to do?

How Retailers Can Respond to the AR Wave – At Any Budget

You don‘t need expensive AR technology to deliver a rich, engaging digital customer experience. There are many ways to incorporate visual, contextual elements throughout the buyer journey:

• Prioritize high-quality lifestyle product photos that help shoppers envision items in their lives
• Use 360° views or videos to showcase products from multiple angles
• Offer interactive elements like quizzes and product match tools to personalize recommendations
• Feature user-generated content and customer reviews with photos to build social proof
• Invest in mobile-optimization for your website and social media content

The key is reducing friction and building confidence at every touchpoint. Audit your existing customer experience and consider how you could add value or answer questions using visual tools. Even simple updates like a digital product comparison chart or size guide can have a big impact.

Conclusion: Embracing the Evolution of Retail

Augmented Reality is undoubtedly a powerful tool for product discovery, storytelling, and conversion. As consumers grow to expect immersive, personalized shopping across channels, AR will become table stakes for many brands.

But the rise of AR reflects a broader shift in consumer behavior and expectations. Digital natives are seeking out brands that leverage emerging technology to create seamless omnichannel experiences. McKinsey found that 60-70% of consumers engage in omnichannel journeys, compared to just 20% pre-pandemic.

To stay competitive, retailers of all sizes need to embrace innovation and integrate digital touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle. While flashy AR try-ons generate buzz, the fundamentals matter most: an engaging mobile presence, memorable visual assets, and a commitment to helping shoppers feel confident in their purchasing decisions.

The way we shop is changing. Is your brand ready to change with it?