Reshaping retail trade

Pakistan takes a leap into AR & VR e-commerce

Reshaping retail trade


ver skipped on buying something online just because you are not sure whether the product would look good on you or not? We have all been there, after adding appealing products in our cart on an online store, right when we are about to click “checkout” something on our mind convinces us not to make the purchase because who knows what it’s going to look like when it is delivered. Augmented reality, virtual try-ons or virtual reality and 3D product models are technological tools that are helping consumers banish such worries so that they end up checking out at online stores without having to travel to the mall and physically try on a piece of clothing before parting with their money.

The e-commerce industry is increasingly incorporating AR and VR technologies. This has revolutionised the shopping experience by offering more immersive, interactive and personalised services. This shift aims to replicate the physical store experience online, allowing customers to better visualise products before making a purchase decision. AR technology enables customers to virtually try on clothes, accessories or makeup using their smartphone cameras. This helps reduce the uncertainty about how a product would look in real life, thus lowering return rates and increasing customer satisfaction. With AR and VR, customers can view products in 3D in the comfort of their homes. Furniture and home decor retailers, for example, are using AR to allow customers to visualise how a piece of furniture would fit and look in their space. AR brings a new dimension to product manuals, allowing customers to scan a product with their smartphone to see step-by-step instructions in a 3D format, making the setup or installation process much easier and engaging.

Some retailers are creating entire virtual stores that customers can navigate a VR environment. This allows customers to browse through products as if they were walking through a physical store, enhancing the shopping experience and engagement. AR and VR can offer a personalised shopping experience by understanding user preferences and behaviour, then recommending products in an interactive and engaging manner.

Globally, several e-commerce websites have been pioneering the use of AR and VR. For example, Warby Parker, known for its eyewear, uses AR to let customers virtually try on glasses and sunglasses, making it easier to choose frames that suit their face, even going as far as offering free home try on. Sephora’s app features AR technology enabling users to try on various makeup products, including lip colours, eye shadows, and more, directly from their mobile device. IKEA Place allows users to visualise how furniture and home decor items would look and fit in their own space before buying. Luxury brands like Gucci, provide an AR try-on feature in their apps, where users can try on watches and sneakers, giving customers a closer look at the product details and how they might look when worn. Perhaps the most innovative use of AR and VR is by L’Oréal Paris, which offers a feature where users can try on hair colours virtually to know the expected result of the colour on their hair beforehand. This is something many people struggle immensely with when it comes to changing hair colour.

These brands are a step ahead in incorporating AR and VR to enhance the online shopping experience, allowing customers to interact with products in a way that was not possible before. By enabling virtual try-ons and product visualisation, e-commerce businesses are making online shopping more engaging, personalised and confident for consumers.

Pakistan’s e-commerce sector is growing rapidly. Integrating AR and VR technologies could further accelerate this growth.

Pakistan’s e-commerce sector is growing rapidly growing. Integrating AR and VR technologies could further accelerate this growth. Furthermore, most of the country’s population either lacks access to safe and convenient transportation or for other reasons cannot travel physically to shopping malls and markets. This is particularly true of many women. Pakistani e-commerce can thus stand out by offering unique immersive shopping experiences using AR and VR that not only attract more customers but also retain them through higher satisfaction levels for people wanting to shop in the comfort of their homes. By allowing customers to better understand products through virtual try-ons and 3D visualisation, businesses can significantly cut return rates. Returns are a major cost in e-commerce.

Adopting AR and VR can help Pakistani e-commerce platforms compete more effectively, both locally and globally, by offering cutting-edge shopping experience. Pakistan has a large young population that is tech-savvy and increasingly looking for online shopping options. AR and VR technologies could cater to their expectations for innovative and interactive shopping experiences. Embracing AR and VR can foster growth in the local tech industry by creating opportunities for developers, designers and entrepreneurs interested in AR/ VR technologies. It will be easy shopping that delivers the right goods and ensures greater satisfaction. Online and offline buying trends changed drastically between 2019 and 2023, mainly due to the advent of Covid-19. In 2023 shoppers were found to be more open to digital shopping with “e-commerce in Pakistan 2020” by E-commerce DB Statista, showing that Pakistan’s e-commerce market had grown by 27 percent since 2019.

Today many Pakistani start-ups and tech companies are aware of global trends. As such they are likely to adopt AR and VR technologies to remain competitive and meet the growing expectations of their customers. Businesses and start-ups like Zambeel Machine Craft, Game Artist Studio and Homevism are some of the top companies working to provide AR solutions in sectors like fashion and apparel for virtual try-ons, furniture and home decor for visualising items in a room and real estate for virtual property tours.

System softwares like Shopify allow businesses to build their own online stores by offering a wide range of AR and VR tools. Bonanza Satrangi implemented AR and an assortment of novel functions on their website in the year 2020. Customers are given a comprehensive 360-degree view of every ensemble featured in the brand’s recently uploaded catalogue on the website. Sapphire’s fashion application also incorporates augmented reality with a 3D function that enables users to visualise an unstitched fabric design in three dimensions prior to making a purchase decision. Arer Corporation, a technology firm specialising in products related to the Metaverse and Augmented Reality, introduced an application in 2022 that enabled users to virtually inspect the furniture they are considering purchasing. How much of this technology was well received is however unclear since the website is no accessible.

Cases like Arer show that there is still a significant gap in Pakistan’s e-commerce scene in many areas including fashion, sports, furniture and real estate that could make good use of AR and VR. As the digital infrastructure continues to improve and the tech ecosystem in Pakistan grows with government supporting start-ups in the tech industry through resources like the National Incubation Centre for Aerospace Technology and Special Technology Zones Authority), it’s likely that more businesses will start implementing these technologies.

The writer is the CEO at ZAKCasa and Verde as well as a managing partner at a law firm, namely Lex Mercatoria

Reshaping retail trade