Augmented reality – good experience or gimmick?

24 Nov

Tesco recently released details of a new feature to their online offering. This feature allows users to view a product in 3D, using augmented reality, as if they are holding it in their hands. Sounds great huh?

The objective here is to help online shoppers make a buying decision. The example Tesco gives is of a busy mum who is looking to buy a new TV, and needs to ensure it will fit well in the living room, and will have enough ports for her kids’ gaming machines.

However, there are a number of flaws with the process that result in a poor user experience:

  • Firstly, there is a process:
    • Accept Active X
    • Download and install a plug-in
    • Accept the licence
    • Have a ‘marker’ to hand – or print one out
    • Ensure I have a webcam, and it is on
    • Hold up the marker to the webcam
  • Finally, I can look at something. However, the 3d image is poor quality
  • Holding it in the palm of your hand does not really allow you to envisage how it will look in your living room

So let’s look at some of these:

You have to download a plug in to your machine

Users are now familiar with shopping online, using websites without the need to download external software to run. By including a requirement to download something Tesco has added a step in the process that users are not expecting, and many are likely to be uncomfortable with.

You need to have a specific physical item in your hand

Now the user has downloaded the plug-in they now have to have a physical item in their hand. This can be something you already own, but if not you can print this out. This is another stage in the process that users are unfamiliar with. The perceived hassle for an unknown gain plays a big part in usability. Forms are normally the biggest culprit, but we imagine that this step will prove too much for most users.

The 3d image is poor quality

So now the user has gotten through the process they are now ready to view the product in the palm of their hand. Disappointingly, the quality of the product graphics is poor and doesn’t really do the product justice. The user can’t really imagine a TV sitting in the corner of the living room when it is sat in the palm of their hand. Ok, the user can look at the ports on the back of the TV, but they may be left wanting a quality image of the TV to validate the pixelated version they’re looking at.

So, what do users need?

When we’ve tested retail websites the product information pages are often key to the user making a buying decision. Imagery is often poor, leaving users guessing or unsure. At this point many users will leave the site and try elsewhere until they are satisfied enough to buy it (from a different website).

This new augmented reality feature from Tesco is clearly looking to solve this problem. But the user research we’ve done has shown that by simply providing images of the product from different angles, with an option to enlarge the image, works perfectly for users. 3D images with rotations and video are sometimes available too and with better image quality than the augmented reality solution.

I’m very interested to see how successful this is, but it looks to me that gimmick and technology has been prioritised ahead of usability and the user experience.  Is this trying to solve a problem that already has a perfectly acceptable solution?



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Ali Carmichael

About Ali Carmichael

Ali (or Alasdair) is an experienced project manager who loves his Gantt charts and milestones! He has over 12 years' experience managing successful online experiences for world class brands. Ali is responsible for ensuring our clients love what we do for them. Follow Ali on twitter @AliJCarmichael

  • Tyrone Burrier

    The first thing I thought when I read about viewing a product on 3D was Wow. But I like the points you presented. I don't know if presenting the products in 3D will be a big help or if it will help consumers in anyway. Nice post.

  • Gerald Brightman

    This is an insightful review! You've made a good point there. Thanks!