UK supermarket giant Tesco is trialling augmented reality technology online and in a selection of its stores, allowing shoppers to see 3D images of products before they buy them.

Augmented reality is the overlay of digital information onto a view of the real world. The Tesco service, which uses technology from British firm Kishino, allows users to hold an image from the Tesco Direct catalogue or a product key in front of large webcams, located throughout the supermarket's aisles, to generate a life-size 3D image of the product.

The technology makes it appear as if the customer is holding the product in their hand, and allows them to move and rotate the product to see it from all angles.

The 3D image is accompanied by information such as specifications, ensuring shoppers can learn more about the products without stores needing to have bulky items, such as TVs, on display.

Initially the in-store service will only be available in eight stores, including Cheshunt, New Malden, Hatfield and Milton Keynes. However, online shoppers can also use the service by downloading an augmented reality plugin from the Tesco website.

Consumers need to hold up a “marker” like a Tesco catalogue or club card to their computer’s webcam in order to see a floating 3D version of the product they want to buy.

"This is a really exciting new technology which in this form is a relatively untapped opportunity in the UK," Tesco told The Telegraph.

"Thanks to our work with Kishino, augmented reality will allow customers to be closer to our product and interact in a way that has never previously been possible."

The initiative marks the first-time a UK retailer has used augmented reality to improve the shopping experience for consumers.

A video of the technology is available on YouTube.

Earlier this year Tesco revealed plans to offer free Wi-Fi in some stores. The supermarket also began trialling an app for smartphones running Google Android in its Romford branch that helps users navigate their way round the store.

Tesco has also been testing a new virtual way to shop, making use of the increasingly popular QR code. Their experiment allowed South Korean customers to shop at Tesco's Home Plus supermarket, without the need for them to actually enter any store at all.

Sophie Curtis contributed to this article.