A New Reality for Retail: How AR/VR is Transforming the Customer Experience

November 22, 2017

Shopping cart with supermarket aisle with refrigerators blurred background

Terms of Engagement

When it comes to retail engagement, the power of digital media is the ultimate driving force behind converting shoppers into buyers. Placing content in front of consumers while they’re already in a shopping mindset, allows retailers and brands to influence a purchase decision simply by generating awareness about a certain product and informing shoppers about its benefits.

But just as consumer demands have evolved, so have the technological capabilities designed to fulfill those needs in today’s convenience-driven retail space. Cue up two innovative types of engagement that are expected to forever change the face of shopping: Augmented and Virtual Reality.

While neither of these channels are particularly new, they do offer a chance for retailers and brands alike to create truly immersive shopping experiences that bridge the digital and brick-and-mortar channels like never before.

Bringing the Showroom to Your Smartphone

Imagine shopping for a new sofa. You go to your preferred retailer’s website and see a few that look appealing, but you’re just not sure. Augmented reality allows you to take each one and “see” it within your actual living room. Not sure about that first shade of blue you thought you liked? Try another color. Realize that the one you like doesn’t quite fit the space you planned for it? Try another spot — or another sofa.

Sound like sci-fi? Nope, IKEA is already doing it today with their IKEA Place app.

Then there’s Alibaba’s Buy+, which brings an entire virtual mall directly to consumers’ phones. Shoppers can browse through various stores and even make purchases with Alipay. It not only gives a virtual platform for sellers without a physical store, but also provides a simulated in-store experience for brick-and-mortar retailers who may not have a store in a particular market. Take Macy’s for example. With no physical presence in China, the retailer took advantage of Alibaba’s platform to virtually participate in Singles’ Day, China’s biggest annual shopping holiday, in order to gain name recognition with Chinese shoppers.

Digitizing the Showroom of Tomorrow

While AR and VR are bringing previously in-store-only advantages to online shopping, the technologies also offer a plethora of possibilities to enhance the physical, in-store experience.

Athletic wear giant Nike is currently experimenting with VR in their New York City By You Studio. The company’s Makers’ Experience allows shoppers to create their own custom shoe design and have it made for them right then and there. The whole experience takes less than 90 minutes. Compare that to the 6 to 8 weeks it takes to receive a custom order through their existing NikeID service, and the Makers’ Experience consumer benefit becomes undeniable.

AR also has a lot of potential for brick-and-mortar. Imagine being in your favorite consumer electronics retail store, trying to decide on a new TV. What if you could open up your smartphone camera, point it at each contender and see superimposed links that offer instant access to all of the available digital media for that TV? With everything from product videos and specs to consumer reviews, you’d be armed with all of the information you need to make a purchase decision on the spot.

And then, there’s grocery shopping. In addition to nutritional information and reviews, what if you could have instant access to recipe suggestions just by pointing your smartphone at an ingredient? Then you’d know which remaining ingredients to pick up while you’re there.

“Essentially, what you have is the best of online shopping with some of the better elements of the brick-and-mortar experience, so you can interact and learn more about products in your own way, on your own particular path,” says Triad Video Content Director, Matt Porter. “And that can only be a good thing.”

Got you thinking? Us too.

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