Addressing the Challenges of Augmented Reality Content for Retail Apps

The market embraces augmented reality (AR) content, and there’s no reason retail should miss this opportunity to evolve. A recent ISACA research has proved that US consumers already see clear benefits of AR for shopping and name retail among the top three industries that AR can be most helpful for. Gartner has high expectations for the industry as well, anticipating 100 million customers worldwide to use AR for making purchases in 2020. Meanwhile, Statista shows that consumer spending on AR content in 2017 accounted for $2 billion and is predicted to reach $8 billion by 2021.

If you’re a retail business owner who thinks long-term, these stats aren’t idle words for you, but an incentive to act. However, the unusual nature of AR content can create too many questions that may pin you down. What type of content a certain category of AR apps needs? How is this content created and maintained? Whom should you hire to do these tasks?

In this article, we provide the answers and ensure you that the challenges of creating AR content shouldn’t hold you back.

Your app and the type of content it needs

Different augmented reality retail apps present different ways for the industry to benefit from the AR technology. Look at the list below and find out what type of content belongs in your AR app.

  • Virtual catalogs – this type of apps requires the development of highly realistic and elaborate 3D models that allow customers to virtually interact with clothing items, jewelry, technical devices, furniture, cars, and other products you sell.
  • Shopping guides – these apps use metadata – text, pictures, and videos – to augment the real view in the camera with additional product information, navigations, and other tips and notifications (for instance, messages informing about a current special offer.)
  • Virtual stores – just like with a virtual catalog, you need 3D models of your items first. However, to make the app feel like a store, you also have to inform your customers about item prices, quantity/color in stock, and eligible special offers – all in the form of metadata.
  • Installation/maintenance manuals – similar to shopping guides, post-purchase support apps augment the real objects with such metadata as pointers and text tips. Additionally, you can step up the value of your app by recreating parts of the installation or assemblage process of especially complex items with 3D models.

Now that you know what type of content your app needs, let’s delve into the details of creating it.

Creating 3D models and metadata for AR apps

AR content is different from the digital content common for most mobile apps. To successfully implement it, you’ll need to find reliable specialists and build sound cooperation with them. As long as you are aware of the processes behind the development of different content types, you’ll be able to stay on the same page with the designers and developers you hire.

3D models

3D designers are the ones responsible for creating 3D models of your items. Professionals are usually able to design them using any type of visual reference, including a sketch or a rough blueprint. Naturally, the more detailed the reference material you provide, the closer each of your 3D models will be to the real thing.

Rest assured that with a due effort from both you (as a provider of item descriptions) and the design team, 3D models can be made stunningly realistic. They can precisely replicate not only the material texture and the dimensions at 1:1 scale, but also the colors and the way they change in different lighting conditions. A well-known IKEA Place app, with its rich and detailed catalog of all kinds of items for interior decoration, is a great example of high-quality 3D model creation for an AR app.

When standalone 3D models are complete, they are handed to AR mobile developers. These developers don’t simply upload the models in the app but also make sure they comply with all the visual odometry and light estimation algorithms that are an essential part of any AR app with 3D model-based content. Thanks to these algorithms, all 3D models naturally fit in the real environment and even automatically adjust to the lighting.


As we’ve already mentioned, metadata for AR apps usually takes the form of text and 2D visual media that provide tips to a user or offer additional relevant content. Here, the challenge lies not in the creation of the content itself, but in designing the way it’s displayed in the app. With a large amount of data and little space of mobile devices, it’s easy to get the screens of your customers cluttered.

The layout design challenge stems from the dynamic nature of AR metadata and the fact that no standard UI/UX rules for the AR and VR spaces have been coined yet. A lot depends on the type of an augmented reality retail app: installation manuals or shopping guides have to leave more space for the real image in the camera focus than, for instance, virtual stores that use the real life surroundings as mere background.

Despite the existing difficulties, an elegant metadata design is feasible. Tesco Discover app, for one, has text, pictures, and even videos all neatly displayed on the screen along with the augmented object (Tesco products or magazines) captured by the camera lens.

Implementation of original and high-quality UI/UX design for an AR app can take two or three times longer than a design for a common mobile app, so keep this in mind. Also, to make sure your metadata is designed in a user-friendly way, pay attention to UI/UX specialists with experience in designing metadata layouts for AR apps close to the type you want to have.

On a final note

Although AR app content – be it 3D models or metadata – takes more time and effort to implement, it also leaves a more lasting impression on a customer, so your investments are justified. Of course, as your business will evolve and expand, you’ll need to create new content and update your app. This is a common procedure of continuous AR app maintenance, and your vendor will most likely be glad to offer it. With this long-term cooperation in mind, choose your AR vendor carefully and make sure they’re the business partner you need.

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