Apollo Box is applying AR to drive lifestyle ecommerce

What is augmented reality good for? Product visualization to encourage online shopping, reckons Santa Clara-based startup Apollo Box, which launched anonline marketplace for an eclectic selection of lifestyle products almost a year ago before spicing up the ecommerce experience withan AR feature called Teleport.

Its been testing AR on its marketplace since last October with a subset of productsbut is now opening up the technology to any brands selling via its platform.

The gift-focused marketplace has around500,000 active users at this point, and an inventory of around1,200 products from circa 450 vendors. Items range from jewelry and apparel, toornaments and toys, to gadgets and more.

Since starting theaugmented realitybeta, the startuphas sold 1,105 items involving the use of AR or about 8.5% of all sales during the period, according to co-founder Will Li and iscrediting the tech with a 25% conversion rate boost.

Just 65 products are currently available on the marketplace for viewing in AR about 5% of itstotal inventory but Li is expecting this to step up substantially now theyre openingthe tech to all their vendors. We believe more brands will work with us after this public launch, and we hope to reach 25% of our growing inventory in the next six months, he says.

To enable products to be viewable on Apollos marketplace in AR, vendors send product images or models and the startupconverts theseto 3D files. It can also create simple animations so that potential buyers can further interact with the virtual products.

The Teleport feature generally lets shoppers view and place a 3D representation on asurface in their home such as a desk or table where they mightbe intending the productto sit. Itworks on iPhone 5s or above and Android 5.0 devices and above.

There are several companies offering AR based technology solution for displaying products, like Cimagine and Marxen. One key difference is that we provide a complete ecommerce solution with integrated AR feature, saysLi.

Many of the brands we work with are small and medium companies. They traditionally rely heavily on offline sales and dont even have their own ecommerce websites or apps. Working with us, they dont have to invest in building their apps to get products shown in AR, he adds.

Apollos AR tech is markerless, which means itworks without needing to print out or place a marker card in the physical location (as some otherapplications of AR do) although this does mean the sizing of the virtual productis not necessarily accurate.

On devices without depth sensor, we dont know the exact distance between the camera and the surface to place the items, confirms Li. So we use an estimated value around 2 feet. Its the distance between a standing person and an office desk in front. When users are placing items in this way, the displaying size will be correct. When users are pointing further or closer, the size goes wrong.

Still, forApollo Boxs mainly lifestyle product context AR is largelyfunctioning to help buyers geta general feel for something theyre thinking of buying.

This is aboutvisualizing a set of oddly shaped ornaments on amantlepiece or playing around witha cartoon dinosaur desk buddy rather than trying to accurately refit akitchen. So really AR is an added gimmick to helpsell what are essentially entirely inessential items.

And its bet for now is that the convenience of markerless AR outweighs the downsides of not necessarily showing buyers a faithful representation of the product theyre eyeing.We choose to use markerless AR technology because it can work anytime, anywhere without restrictions, he says, adding:Most products in our [current] AR portal have unique functions and cool features.

But Lialso notes thatmore smartphones are being released that incorporate depth sensors which means the limitation is likely to go away in time anyway.

Phone makers like Lenovo and Asus have released AR enabled phones by working with Googles Tango. These new phones have depth camera in addition to photo camera, so they accurately measure the surrounding 3D place. Intel has a similar technology called RealSense in their product line.

There are rumors about the next iPhone having similar functions. We already have a Tango compatible app that is featured in the Tango category on Google Play Store. On Tango devices, it will always show the exact sizes no matter how users place or move around.

Apollo Box is also hoping the AR featurewill generate some organic marketing for the marketplace as shoppers are able toscreenshot and share photos of the products theyre playing around with.

One interesting finding from our customer interviews is that many users viewed the augmented reality feature as a fun and rewarding experience. They are more interested in interacting with the products and sharing with their friends than viewing the actual size. They spent longer time in the app compared to users not using the AR feature (16 mins vs. 6 mins). This is also a big reason forthe conversion rate boost, he adds.

Apollo Box was founded in February 2016, and has raised a total of $1.15M to date from several Silicon Valley angel investors, including Amino Capital.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/18/apollo-box-is-applying-ar-to-drive-lifestyle-ecommerce/