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  • Writer's pictureFlorian Thess

What is Augmented Reality and how it is used for eCommerce

It has been around for a few years but just a few people know what Augmented Reality, short AR, is and what can be achieved with it. Without getting into much historical facts, let's focus on what Augmented Reality is in 2021 and what it can be used for.

The best definition for "What is Augmented Reality" is the following:

Augmented reality (AR) is an enhanced version of the real physical world that is achieved through the use of digital visual elements, sound, or other sensory stimuli delivered via technology. It is a growing trend among companies involved in mobile computing and business applications in particular.

So what does that mean and what can be done with it? The possibilities are endless and span across many sectors.

Online shops that sell products can leverage on Augmented Reality to deliver a better shopping experience to their clients. Imagine you can preview an item you are about to purchase in the real world - well, you can now with AR. Augmented Reality is the most anticipated trend for online retailers, bringing an innovative and immersive experience to your costumers. Being able to walk around the product and inspect it from any direction, helps the costumer to eliminate product doubts and creates a bond between costumer and brand.

​Furthermore, the use of Augmented Reality increases Brand Awareness and Engagement, ultimately leading to a stronger relationship between Brand and Customer.

Some examples on how Augmented Reality is being used today:

  • Apple offers every website visitor to view their products in AR, like this new MacBook

  • IKEA's own app allows to virtually place furniture into your own space:

  • HORNE enables users to view their decor on iOS devices with QuickLook, like here

E-Commerce platform such as Shopify make it easy for sellers to offer an Augmented Reality experience to their costumers. Shopify users can simply upload 3D files to their online shop and Shopify does the rest. Those models then can be viewed through the mobile phone's cameras in AR - true to scale and highly detailed. They also put together very helpful resources about using AR for your Shopify eCommerce site here.

Apple is playing a huge role in the development of AR. Together with Pixar, Apple developed the USDZ file format and embedded the "Quick Look" feature into iOS and MacOS devices into the default browser. That means that Safari automatically recognises AR objects embedded into the seller's website and offers a neat customer experience. An example of what that looks like is here:

From physical object to 3D-Asset - how to?

Well, there a mainly two options:

  • Photogrammetry

  • Modelling


Photogrammetry uses a selection of pictures of the real object and calculates what that object looks like in 3D. Again, Apple, has announced a photogrammetry API integration into their latest OS, macOS Monterey. This is supposed to make it easier for sellers to turn their objects into 3D models. However, photogrammetry falls short for smaller and very detailed objects. The calculation also won't be 100% perfect all the times so there might be some manual "cleaning up" involved. Besides the so called "mesh", the textures are equally as important. Textures give the object the physical accurate properties in terms of colour, reflection, glossiness, you name it. The software won't be able to create materials that accurately represent all of these properties. So in order to achieve the highest degree of realism, these textures need to be created manually.


Modelling basically describes the manual process of transforming a real world object into a digital, three-dimensional copy. A 3D artist will hand-model the object using 3D-modelling software such as ZBrush, Cinema4D, Maya and others over a few days and then texture the object accordingly. This process takes more time than the previous one but it ensures a highly detailed and very vibrant end-product.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Photogrammetry can save a lot of time, but on its own won't produce objects that are as detailed as hand-modelled ones. But sometimes it doesn't even need to be that highly detailed - it all depends on the product and the audience.

How do I showcase my Augmented Reality model?

Once the 3D file has been created, it will need to be converted into either .glb or USDZ file format in order to be viewed in AR. Again, here it is important to know where the model will be hosted. The cleanest way is to embed the model directly on your website leveraging on Apple's Quick Look feature. A USDZ file will be needed for this. However, this file type can only be viewed on iOS devices.

According to Shopfiy's current documentation, a .glb file works best to host a 3D model on their website.

Isn't that cool?

Being able to showcase physical products to costumers through Augmented Reality is a great way to increase engagement and achieve higher conversion rates. And with eCommerce platforms such as Shopify and their support of this technology, it is more accessible than ever for shops of any size to offer this experience to their costumers.

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