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A switch in reality

By Retail Technology | Wednesday June 27 2018

AR has been in the news for retailers recently with many companies pushing ahead with investment in the technology, but is it time to concentrate on VR opportunities instead? James Pruden from Xigen thinks so

The hype around the virtual reality (VR) has been building over the last couple of years, but it never quite delivered on its promise. That is until now. With the launch of Facebook’s Oculus Go headset at the beginning of May there’s VR at an affordable price point of £199, with increased content, free from wires which tethered and plagued earlier models, and delivers a much better experience than what has come before it. 

VR has arguably reached a level of maturity that far sighted retailers and those in other industries hoped it would. 

With products like Oculus Go coming into the market, VR is able to deliver stand out interactive shopping experiences that empower consumers to make better informed purchasing decisions. 

Importantly, it’s these developments that help VR to improve the retail experience in a non-intrusive way. They allow VR to become a more seamless extension of online shopping, whether that’s in-store or at home. 

Customer experience

Looking at what VR means for the in-store environment, there’s huge potential for VR to help retailers brand build and improve the customer experience. A good example is what Topshop delivered when it launched a VR experience in its flagship store that allowed consumers to ride a virtual water slide through a recognisable Oxford Street. 

Expect to see VR have a big impact on the size of retail outlets as well,  one that will see them shrink. With VR providing access to a retailer’s entire product range why have so much product taking up space in an expensive high street location when the sheer spectacle of VR will do a great job in driving sales. This approach will save retailers money in rent, general property upkeep and staffing costs. 

Virtual showrooms will become more ubiquitous in retail spaces as well. Using VR consumers could pick out products, such as furniture or white goods, and place them virtually in a generic home setting while in-store, to give them more of an idea of how it could look in theirs. 

The intimacy provided by VR in such showrooms means consumers are far more likely to purchase especially if the product is a big-ticket item, which many would rather see and experience in person first before spending money. 

Ikea have taken this approach and recently unveiled its online virtual reality destination in Australia, which allows customers to experience in-store floor sets as if they were there, as well as make purchases and have them delivered. 

VR headset 

In-store is not the only place VR will have a big impact, as virtual shopping becomes an extension of online shopping though one that offers much greater value for the consumer. For instance, shopping for clothes could be transformed. No more wondering around stores to hunt and try on clothes that look good and importantly fit. All consumers would need to do is put on a VR headset in the comfort of their home and virtually head to their favourite stores. 

They could look at what they have to offer and try on the clothes virtually on a computer-generated model designed to match their body type. They can then simply purchase in the technology and have the clothes delivered or pick them up in-store. 

According to research by management consultancy firm L.E.K 70% of consumers want to use v-commerce to try on clothes and accessories and to customise them. 

So what role will AR play? The simple answer is it won’t, I believe, have a long-term role in the retail world. The recent big developments in VR which enable retailers to deliver an immersive stand out experience and end to end customer journey is not something AR can compete with. And anyway, AR has little application in the fast-growing ecommerce sector, when to date it’s been mainly used in physical stores. 

Added value 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that AR is evolving into a tool that adds value by helping people in their working lives, or in undertaking daily tasks while out an about, like driving. For example, in the working world AR glasses that display vital medical data during procedures are set to help medical practitioners in their roles. Or AR in a vehicle could involve a display on the windscreen showing what’s in the driver’s blind spots, their speed, GPS route, the braking distance and highlight if a pedestrian is getting close, among other information.  

The evolution in VR technology has brought it to a level of maturity that every retailer must embrace. 

It is set to play an increasingly important role in the shopping experience both in-store and out by enhancing the shopping experience and making it more exciting and informative. I expect it will be only a matter of time until shopping via VR is set to be as common as 1-click ordering.

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