Convenience store, by Snap’s Vishal Badiani

E-commerce evolves to deliver a meaningful, mobile-first retail experience through augmented reality, writes Snap’s Vishal Badiani

Most businesses today are spending a great deal of time and money making their businesses work in the digital world we live in. They have mobile apps, or at least mobile-friendly web pages. Up-to-date pricing and stock availability. Reliable delivery and returns policies. They may even have reviews and loyalty programmes.

Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you this isn’t enough. These table stakes are enough to compete. To play the game. But if you want to win, especially in a region like MENA, where you have some of the most mobile-savvy shoppers anywhere in the world, the digital experience cannot simply be transactional. Businesses must think about how they build their brands online, and acknowledge that consumers now demand to discover, evaluate and trial products and services online – not just purchase. It’s part of a trend many refer to as the ‘convenience economy’, and it’s not going away.

It all comes back to building customer experiences that offer people ways to actually enjoy shopping. Like in a physical retail environment, online shoppers want to see what products look like in their own environment or on their own bodies. They want to be able to quickly and easily find out more information about where products are sourced and the inspiration behind the brand. They also want to be able to share this shopping experience with friends, on mobile, any time and from anywhere.

As a result, creating an e-commerce journey that is immersive and engaging is what will set tomorrow’s leaders apart from the pack. This is where augmented reality (AR) comes in as the next big digital disruptor for all businesses looking to grow their share of online sales.

Creativity and Conversion

This year alone, there’s been a swell of new research into the impact of AR across the e-commerce funnel. Many consumers already value AR in the shopping experience, and more will grow to expect it in the days ahead. In one global study, we found that more than half of consumers actively search for AR experiences – a high number for the nascent technology. More than three in four believe AR technology will play a role in how people shop in the next five years. We’ve also found that AR delivers almost twice the levels of visual attention compared with non-AR equivalents.

Locally, the business opportunity is all the more substantial. Almost all of the Gen Z and millennial population in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are anticipated to be frequent AR users by 2025. The potential of AR in retail specifically will only grow in the next decade. Around three in four consumers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, say that they can successfully identify AR when they see it, and nearly four in five expect and desire to use AR as a practical ‘tool’ in their everyday lives. Interacting with products that have AR experiences has thus been found to lead to a 94 per cent higher conversion rate.

Seeing this potential, our teams at Snap and our partners across the region are making it easier, faster and more efficient to develop quality AR campaigns that support e-commerce business and brand goals. Through the continued expansion of Snap’s Lens Studio and the release of new resources such as the Snap Global Creator Hub, it’s never been easier for businesses to build their products in 3D and serve these products as AR experiences to the right shoppers, at the right time.

With years of research and development investment focused on AR, Snap has also been able to ensure the highest fidelity and quality AR experiences for brands. This has been essential to creating truly immersive, interactive and memorable experiences. Today, the use of AR can facilitate virtual try-ons, catalogue browsing, showrooming and much more. Just this autumn, the launch of a new global creative studio for branded AR – Arcadia – further underscores the investments being made in this ecosystem, delivering impactful experiences that are platform-agnostic and can live across platforms, web and app-based AR environments.

Looking at things holistically, it’s clear that e-commerce in MENA still has plenty of headroom for growth. Meanwhile, consumers have shown that they are eager for more immersive and engaging online shopping experiences – and will reward brands that offer these. The myth that AR is little more than dog ears and rainbow stickers has evaporated as consumer-first marketers and agencies realise the use
cases for AR across retail segments. It is no longer about if you should be thinking about AR in your e-commerce strategy; it’s about how.