Try Before You Buy with Augmented Reality

In a previous article “How Can CAD Models Be Repurposed for Online Sales and Marketing?”, the data from the U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce showed that e-commerce retail sales increased around 15 percent from 2017 to 2018, whereas offline retail sales grew only 5 percent in the same time period. The strong momentum of e-commerce is reflected in everyday residential and commercial shopping, from water faucets to computer displays, from chandeliers to office furniture.

However, before I place an online order, there is always a doubt in the back of my mind, “What if it doesn’t fit into my environment?” For product functions and quality in general, I can examine the extensive consumer reviews, ratings and answers, which can typically provide a convincing gauge. But my environment is specific to me. General reviews cannot help much. This is why many online shoppers buy a product online, only to find it doesn’t fit into their kitchen, and then have to return it. From the seller’s point of view, a manufacturer or a distributor sells a product online, only to find it returned later. Think about the wasted time, money, and effort along with the unnecessary shipments, risks and disappointments.

To address this issue, developed a feature called “In-Home Preview (Augmented Reality)” for selected products as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. In-Home Preview (Augmented Reality)

(Video courtesy of

According to an article on Digital Commerce 360, finds AR shoppers spend more and return less. Here are several specific metrics shared in this article:

  • AR users on average visitcom’s app or site twice as often each month than non-AR shoppers.
  • The average session length for an AR shopper is nearly one minute longer than non-AR shoppers.
  • The return rate for AR shoppers is 22% lower than shoppers who didn’t use the tool and bought the same product.
  • Therefore, in one year, increased the AR-enabled products from dozens to 650, or 1,700 SKUs.

In the same light, it’s encouraging to see that SOLIDWORKS Sell develops its own general plug-and-play AR capabilities for 3D online product configurators as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. SOLIDWORKS Sell AR Capabilities for A 3D Chair Online Configurator.

Although different from the AR application, SOLIDWORKS Sell AR looks pretty friendly to use by consumers and easy to deploy by brands. Let’s find out how it works.

First, load a configurator URL, such as a 3D chair, in a Safari browser on an iPhone, iPad, or iPad Pro with iOS 12 or above. Then customize materials, sizes or shapes across various components to your liking as shown on the left side of Figure 2. By the way, this customization step works in all major browsers, devices and operating systems, but the AR only works in Safari on iOS 12 or above at the time of writing this article.

Once happy with the appearance in the 3D viewport, you can touch the AR button at the upper left corner and it will switch to an AR preview window as shown in Figure 3. Please note that after finishing your tweaking, you may need to wait for several seconds before touching the AR button. This is the time needed for the final personalized model to be rendered accordingly in the AR mode.

Figure 3. An AR preview window of A 3D Chair Online Configurator, powered by SOLIDWORKS Sell.

Now please touch the AR tab at the top of the preview window. You may be asked to move the iPhone and scan the floor to place the chair, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Move iPhone to scan the floor and place the chair.

In several seconds, the chair will pop up in your environment as shown on the right side in Figure 2. For those with experiences in the early days of AR, you may notice that it doesn’t require scanning a QR code or other prerequisite markers any more. This certainly eases the user experience.

In this AR display, you may spin the digital model by rotating two fingers together as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Spin the digital model in the AR mode by rotating two fingers together.

You can also slide one finger on the screen to push it further or pull it closer. Of course, you may go back to the configurator, choose a different appearance and project the updated chair again. For example, Figure 6 shows a different fabric material. Also note that you can scale the model up or down by expanding or pinching two fingers, similar to scaling an image on an iPhone. What’s insightful here is that the display tells the active scale in real time, 100% in this case, so that we know how the actual size would look and fit in the environment.

Figure 6. 100% scale of an updated chair with a new fabric.

That’s it for a consumer to verify the product’s suitability before placing an online order. There are no goggles, glasses, theaters, or any special equipment needed for this experience. All you need is an iPhone, which is why it’s so easy and practical for the general public to adopt.

On the other hand, what does it mean to manufacturers or distributers? Is there any heavy development needed on the seller side? The answer is no—as long as you have 3D online configurators powered by SOLIDWORKS Sell, AR can be enabled with no additional coding, which is why I call it “general plug-and-play AR capabilities.” I know some sellers are ready to get onboard. The next natural question is what are the low-hanging fruits to enable AR first. shared their experiences:

  • Products that have lower than average conversion online, but convert well at offline retailers.
  • Premium products, as expensive items are often a considered purchase. AR could help give the shopper confidence.
  • Same for heavy items, such as a bathtub.”

I hope that you are as convinced as I am on the values, potentials, and easy adoptions of AR. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the technologies, but I feel that I will be missing something in my next online purchase without AR. Am I alone?

To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS Sell can help promote your ideas and products, please visit its product page. The best way to learn is to roll up your sleeves and play with live examples featured on a demo site including actual client websites. Have fun and please leave your thoughts below.


About the Author
Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise and smart manufacturing.

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