December 12, 2011, 9:32 AM

Web-only Ice slips rings on customers’ fingers

Augmented reality in its mobile app breaks down an online barrier.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

The merchant's augmented reality mobile app enables shoppers to try on rings and bracelets, and soon pendants and earrings.

Mobile technology is helping one web-only jeweler break down a barrier that Internet retailers must always contend with: Shoppers cannot try  on items via the web. But they can now at Ice.com Inc., which today debuted a mobile app with augmented reality technology that lets shoppers virtually try on rings and bracelets.

The Ice mobile app, available now for the iPhone and in the coming weeks for Android, enables consumers to shop the jeweler’s complete catalog of products. Its big feature, though, is Try It On. When a shopper finds a ring she likes, she touches Try It On on the product details page. That’s when the augmented reality kicks in. Augmented reality changes what a person sees through her smartphone camera. In an apartment-finder app, for example, she could walk down the street pointing her camera at buildings, and suddenly see on her screen a text box over a building with an apartment listing.

In the case of Ice, an optimized image of the chosen ring appears on the screen while the camera is live. The shopper lines up the ring over her finger then snaps a picture. Then she can adjust the picture, moving the ring by pinching, zooming or swiping. She presses Done and then can see how the ring would look on her finger. She can also share the picture with friends and family via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Shoppers also can try on bracelets.

The goal Ice set for the app, built by the merchant and developer Maag Studios, is to increase customer engagement and boost conversion.

“You know you will convert a certain amount of people; but the more tools you give them, you will up the conversion,” says Shmuel Gniwisch, CEO of Ice, No. 242 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. “It’s also about engagement with the brand. People will get to know that Ice is the place I can try that ring on. And as a result there’s a better chance they will buy it. To be involved with the brand sooner or later that shopper will buy from the brand and talk about the brand. And when you have a cool app, people will engage.”

The app cost around $50,000 to develop, Gniwisch says, which is more than some apps cost because of the augmented reality technology. The price also included photo optimization, altering every ring and bracelet image so that only their tops and a bit of a curve on both sides would appear.

Ice believes the app will help sell more rings and bracelets—and in the near future pendants and earrings with the addition of those products to the augmented reality feature. It will achieve return on investment, the company says. But mobile technology is about much more than simple ROI, Gniwisch insists.

“You can’t look purely for ROI. You have to have a sign on a store, what is the ROI on the sign?” he says. “Mobile commerce is a pillar of e-commerce. You have to have an e-commerce site, an m-commerce site and a mobile app. As things develop you will see more and more business driven through mobile, whether its sales through a smartphone or research started on a smartphone and later a purchase is made online.”

And when a shopper downloads a retailer’s app, that merchant is getting placement on one of the most used and personal places around—a consumer’s smartphone desktop. A merchant is more likely to get that placement, keep it and even gain more prominent placement when an app is cool—and augmented reality is cool, Gniwisch says.

Ice will launch a mobile commerce site in March. Right now, 13% of total traffic to its e-commerce site stems from mobile devices. The e-retailer decided to go with the app first because it believed the augmented reality feature was so cool that Ice would get more attention with the app than with a site. Sites currently don’t have the capabilities to run complex programs like Try It On. Other projects are in line before the m-commerce site because of Valentine’s Day.

While Gniwisch describes an m-commerce site as a pillar of online retailing, in the months ahead he is pinning his hopes on the mobile app.

“You can share any products, tweet them, e-mail them, you can access the full store and your wish list, you can send a hint to your boyfriend, and you can try on jewelry,” he says. “All of these cool things add to the engagement level where people associate jewelry with Ice and a great shopping experience with Ice.”

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