Augmented reality watch try-ons: how they help brands sell more
Time is not running out for the wristwatch. In 2019, a report from The NPD Group found that compared to 2015, more adults were wearing watches. Fast forward to 2022 and the watch industry is going just as strong.
But just because people are buying watches (and are expected to continue doing so) doesn’t mean that every watch brand will do well in the coming year and beyond.
While big brands remain popular (over 100 million people now wear an Apple Watch, whereas the biggest seller of Rolex and Omega watches in the UK saw sales increase by 43% compared with pre-pandemic levels), newcomers are swiftly taking over the market.
In the luxury niche, second-hand luxury watch marketplaces are a new, booming trend. For example, late last year, the luxury watch startup WatchBox raised $165 million at a $1 billion valuation, with WatchBox CEO Justin Reis predicting that the company will have generated $300 million in revenue in 2021.
However, as luxury watchmakers like Richard Mille purposely limit supply as a way of preserving value, we will undoubtedly see other secondary watch marketplaces emerge. In fact, if a recent McKinsey & Company report is to be believed, second-hand luxury watch sales will increase from $18 billion in 2019 to $32 billion by 2025.
For other watch companies, remaining competitive in this space is going to get tougher. Especially now that many people shop for watches online, watch companies need to innovate if they are to attract — and keep — customers.
One way they can do that is by investing in 3D and augmented reality (AR) technologies.
3D and augmented reality watch experiences: 3 examples
It doesn’t matter whether you sell smartwatches or luxury watches. Every brand can use 3D and AR technologies to get ahead. Here’s how.
1. Virtual try-on watches on ecommerce sites
On the other hand, because wrist technology is still in development, it is still comparatively rare to see watch brands offer customers the ability to virtually try on or visualise watches through AR.
Of course, just because watch try-ons are unusual, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
For instance, in 2018, in an effort to reduce online returns, WatchBox introduced an AR watch try-on feature. Users had to print out a special paper bracelet available from the WatchBox site, which functioned as a marker for the AR. By pointing a smartphone camera at the bracelet, users could observe a watch virtually materialise on their wrist.
Two years later, in 2020, Gucci was the first fashion brand to use markerless AR technology for augmented reality watch try-ons.
Shoppers could select a watch from Gucci’s app and point their smartphone camera directly towards their wrist to see what their chosen watch would look like on them. Users could also click on a link to buy a watch straight from the website, or snap a photo of themselves wearing a virtual watch for future reference, or send it to friends for feedback.
More recently, in 2020, Grand Seiko and Watches of Switzerland launched an AR experience of their Toge Special Edition watch on Instagram. Users could head to one of four official Instagram pages, including @grandseikousa and @grandseikouk, to “put on” the watch.
As wrist tracking technology improves, we will see more and more watch brands integrating AR watch try-on features into their product pages, apps, and social media profiles.
However, to give shoppers the option of visualising watches up close or trying them on with AR, brands and retailers first need to create 3D models of their watches.
To meet the growing demand for watch visualisation, at Poplar Studio we’ve also recently begun providing watch try-ons delivered straight through the browser. This web-based solution can be easily incorporated into any ecommerce website or storefront as part of the shopping journey.
2. Immersive Google Swirl campaigns
Once a brand has 3D models of their watches, they can also create Google Swirl campaigns. Google Swirl campaigns are immersive ad experiences. Unlike traditional ads that are static, Google Swirl ads include 3D objects and are interactive.
For instance, when users come across a Swirl ad, they can play around with a 3D object within it as if it was right in front of them. They can spin the 3D object around, zoom in and out of it, and enter a full screen to get a better look at it.
An excellent example of a watch brand taking advantage of the Google Swirl ad format is RADO Watches. We recently collaborated with RADO to create an ad that would showcase their unique RADO Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic watch.
Because the watch took years to design and make, RADO Watches wanted to ensure that whatever campaign they ran did justice to the watch’s intricacy and detail.
The resulting Google Swirl ad let users rotate the watch to see it from different sides and angles. Potential customers could also zoom in and out of the ad to take a good look at the watch’s unique features, including its strap and watch face.
3. Virtual watch try-ons through social commerce
With brands increasingly selling their products on social media platforms, social commerce has taken off.
In the US, around 80 million people bought something on social media in 2020, with social ecommerce spending totalling about $27 billion overall. By 2025, the number of “social shoppers” in the US is forecasted to reach 108 million. What’s more, by then, social commerce is expected to account for more than 5% of US retail ecommerce sales.
For any watch brand that sells on social media, incorporating virtual try-ons is a great strategy to increase sales. This is especially true now that a growing number of social platforms are starting to add wrist-tracking technology into their offering for brands.
Future-forward watch brands are already taking advantage of this AR opportunity. For instance, among a host of new features Snapchat announced in mid-2021, wrist-tracking technology was particularly well-received. The company noted that the feature would be soon available to brands for future Lenses.
Soon after the announcement, Snapchat partnered with Samsung to launch an AR version of Galaxy Watch 3, accessible through Snapchat Lens. When “trying on” the watch, Snapchatters could choose between different Galaxy Watch 3 models, colours, straps, and face watches.
Clicking on the “shop” button brought users directly to a Samsung online store, making it super easy for shoppers to buy the watch.
Piaget is another watch brand that has already tried Snapchat’s wrist tracking technology. Last year, users could try-on Piaget’s Polo Skeleton watch by launching an AR experience through Piaget’s Snapchat account or by scanning a Snapcode.
The future of augmented reality watch experiences
Augmented reality watch experiences are not yet as commonplace as augmented reality experiences that allow people to try on eyeglasses or lipsticks. However, that is not to say that watch brands are not leveraging AR technology.
Over the last few years, we have seen many watch brands launch AR experiences featuring virtual try-on watches. Besides making it easier for customers to decide whether a watch will look good on them and decrease returns, augmented reality watches are also a great way to get free press — precisely because they are still rare.
Nevertheless, as wrist tracking technology improves, augmented reality watch try-ons will grow in popularity. In a few years, virtual try-on watch experiences will not be a novelty but rather an expectation.
Want to get ahead? Contact Poplar Studio today to learn more about building 3D models of your watches and turning them into AR try-on experiences or immersive campaigns.