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How emerging technologies can help boost retailer’s online sales

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Over the past decade, e-commerce has continued to grow steadily in popularity, with the amount of purchases made over the internet quadrupling to 16.3 per cent of total retail sales. Mobile and tablet e-commerce sales have also seen a combined rise of 40 per cent over the past four years.

Year-on-year statistics demonstrate a similar success story for online retail, with the latest March figures showing an 18.9 per cent increase. Shoppers are seemingly turning their backs on the high street, which reported its steepest year-on-year drop in footfall since 2010.

Yet, despite the continual growth of online shopping, customers have admitted that they are reluctant to spend large amounts over the web. Our recent ‘Webrooming vs showrooming’ report found that over a third (39 per cent) of consumers say they would only feel comfortable spending up to £1,000 online, and for anything over that sum, they would shop in store.

With consumers reluctant to spend thousands of pounds online, it is restricting the kinds of products that e-commerce retailers can sell. For those that specialise in high-end goods, they could potentially be missing out on a significant amount of sales.

So, what can retailers do to help improve buyer confidence when deciding to purchase big ticket items online?

Use augmented reality (AR) to offer better visual aids

AR has been receiving a lot of mainstream attention over the past year, primarily due to Apple and the launch of its ARkit and its latest AR compatible iPhone, alongside the release of Google’s ARCore. With the technology now becoming more accessible, 40 per cent of consumers want to see retail websites and apps adopting AR to improve their shopping experience. 45 per cent also state that if they could better visualise products, they would be more inclined to purchase expensive goods online.

The technology, which overlays digital images on top of real world views, is already being looked into by some of retail’s biggest brands, including IKEA. It’s recently launched app, IKEA Place, allows users to place digital, to-scale products into a room in their house, so they can preview what furniture will look like in-situ. This means that consumers don’t have to go through the hassle of purchasing the product, assembling it and then moving it into its space to realise they don’t like it. Thanks to AR, they can simply see a digital representation, which will allow them to decide if the product is to their taste or not – saving both time and money.

Premium painting brand Dulux is also utilising AR within its Visualizer app. The app makes the task of decorating extremely simple by allowing consumers to preview what walls within their homes would look like in certain colours, without having to take the time and effort to paint over them.

But, it’s not just home renovations that AR could help to make easier. The technology could also improve online clothes shopping, helping to bring static images of fashion items alive by making them fully 3D. Consumers could place a virtual image of a piece of clothing or an accessory over a real-world view of their body using their smartphone or tablet’s camera. When purchasing expensive products, such as jewellery or a high-end clothing, this would allow consumers to preview the items, without having to go in store and deal with the hassle of trying everything on.

Let customers experience products in an immersive environment with virtual reality (VR)  

VR is yet another technology that has come on in leaps and bounds over the past 12 months. The technology, which allows users to fully immerse themselves in a digital environment, has already seen huge success within the gaming industry, with Sony’s VR headset selling over two million units in just over a year. The retail sector is also beginning to realise how it could stand to benefit from adopting the technology by making the online shopping experience more immersive.

Imagine the journey of buying a vehicle – most people would likely feel more comfortable completing this kind of purchase in store, as they would want to see the car up close in a showroom and maybe take it for a test drive. But, imagine if the car was the showroom, and instead of just being able to walk around the outside of it, you could walk around the inside of it too.

Bring in VR. Once a user has placed on their VR headset, they can literally be transported anywhere, including into a virtual world where they are able to walk into a car’s engine and mechanical system. In this environment, the consumer could experience every aspect of the car, providing them with an immersive experience that even the physical showroom could not offer. But going even further, as consumers walk around, they could be shown information about the car and different options they could choose from, which when selected, could instantly change for them to see how a bespoke design would look and function.

According to our research, 49 per cent of consumers have stated that they would be more inclined to spend larger amounts online if websites provided them with sufficient tools to gather as much information on products as possible before they buy. VR could be that essential tool that could open up a whole range of e-commerce capabilities from a consumer’s living room that previously weren’t available.

Online sales are thriving and there is no disputing that. However, what should be raising alarms bells for online retailers is that consumers aren’t comfortable spending such large sums on the web. Instead, they are opting to use the internet as a method of research before shopping in store. This ultimately needs to be addressed, so that retailers can maximise their online sales. Using technologies, such as AR and VR, could be the answer to increasing buyer confidence when it comes to purchasing expensive items on the web. But, if retailers don’t make their shoppers feel more comfortable making considered purchases online, then they are likely to continue to miss out on sales into the far and distant future.

Sam Rutley, managing director, PushON (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

Sam Rutley, managing director at PushON, an award-winning full service e-commerce agency.