Recent changes in technology have transformed retail shopping into an experience spanning stores, websites and mobile devices. Brands once operating only brick-and-mortar locations have gone online, and online retailers are establishing physical storefronts. Shoppers browse in stores and buy online, buy online to pick up in stores and scan bar codes in apps to find the best deals on items wherever they are.
If all this seems like a dream come true for you as a connected shopper, hold on to your seat. With retailers now introducing augmented and virtual reality technology, your shopping experience is about to get a lot more interesting.
Retail Shopping the Virtual Way
The omnichannel experience has been growing in the retail sector thanks to e-commerce integrations allowing retailers to manage inventory across locations and offer the same deals to all shoppers regardless of where or how they make purchases. The convenience of “shop online, pick up in store” is now standard for many major brands, giving you the option of doing all your shopping at home and simply swinging by the nearest location to grab your purchases at a convenient time. If you don’t like something you bought on a retailer’s website, you can return it to a nearby store without hassle.
What if you didn’t have to worry about returns because you’d already know clothing would fit, furniture would look right in your home or a device met your exact needs? With the adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), you can immerse yourself in worlds where it’s possible to interact with products before making buying decisions.
You’re probably familiar with AR, in which technology is “layered” over reality to add value and improve your shopping experience. Dressing room and showroom apps are examples of AR in action, creating virtual environments meant to help you visualize real things. VR, on the other hand, creates a self-contained reality in which you can visit faraway destinations, get behind the wheel of racecars or be transported to retail stores halfway around the world. Some fellow attorneys, like Lamber Goodnow from Phoenix, are even using virtual reality in wrongful death legal cases! They use virtual reality to help the jury visualize what the victim went through – in an accident.
Thirty-three percent of shoppers across demographics are more likely to shop at retail stores offering VR experiences. The number jumps to 70 percent in the millennial generation and 80 percent among Generation Z. With 171 million VR users expected to be active by 2018, retailers are beginning to take notice of this potentially powerful form of marketing. Young shoppers have grown up with technology at their fingertips every waking moment, and they want to interact in convenient, personal ways with the brands they love. VR allows retailers to cater to this desire by using truly disruptive technology.
A Bold New Approach to Retail
Forward-thinking companies are already making AR and VR part of the shopping experience. These brands recognize the potential of virtual technology to:
• Eliminate the frustration, confusion and delays experienced by shoppers, known as “pain points”
• Provide the personalized experiences modern consumers want
• Improve overall customer service on all platforms
What does this look like in a retail setting? Consider how some of your favorite stores are adopting new technology to transform their marketing and change how you interact with their products.
Deeper Stories, Better Experiences
Storytelling is the backbone of digital marketing, and the immersive nature of VR makes it even easier for brands to establish emotional connections with consumers. The North Face tapped into this by catering to their customers’ wild sides through realistic VR experiences set in exotic destinations. One demonstration in Korea invited shoppers to don outdoor gear and sit in a model of a sled while wearing a VR headset. Willing participants were instantly transported to the South Pole and taken on a realistic dogsled adventure. The brand’s latest experience takes VR enthusiasts on a tour of Yosemite National Park. Customers crave these kinds of interactions, and retailers like The North Face take advantage of VR to connect the story and personality of their brands to the interests of target audiences.
Taking Personalization to the Next Level
It’s hard to picture exactly how a new sofa will fit in your living room or how the shirt and pants you’re looking at on a clothing retailer’s website will look when you wear them together. Brands like Ashley Furniture and Gap are working to eliminate these barriers with AR and VR experiences.
Several Ashley Furniture stores now include digital showrooms, allowing you to strap on a VR headset and play around with the placement of furniture pieces in a representation of your own home before you buy. This kind of technology helps shoppers feel more confident about furniture choices and increases the likelihood of purchases.
Gap’s DressingRoom app operates on a similar principle. It gives you the chance to “try on” clothes using models close to your body size and shape, so you don’t have to try to guess what a piece will look like on you by examining a mannequin or online model. Using the app, you can build outfits and add accessories to achieve just the right look without ever setting foot in a store.
Where Can Brands Go from Here?
The market for AR and VR decides is expected to grow to $4 billion by 2018, and revenue from these technologies may hit $120 billion by 2020. Although many retailers are still in the early stages of adopting virtual technologies, these numbers suggest great potential for expansion in the near future.
With young generations of shoppers driving the growth of this trend, it’s likely more stores will begin to bring VR to their brick-and-mortar locations and offer AR apps for mobile customers. The way you experience brands as you shop online or in their stores will continue to evolve, creating a more personal experience and eliminating the barriers between the digital and the physical. One day, it may be possible to shop entirely from your own home while still enjoying a “traditional” retail experience created by a virtual environment.