With the proliferation of new-age technology in the global marketplace, retail experience has not been far behind in the adoption curve. Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), technologies are set to clock a global market worth $1.6 Billion by 2025. Gartner builds an even stronger case by positing that as many as 100 million customers will shop using AR by 2020.
Let’s look at the leading use cases through which both AR and VR are impacting retail:
1. Acting as Digital Associates
Both AR/VR are helping retailers to tap into a wealth of data and help customers shop better. In this sense, they are stepping into the shoes of digital associates with a range of functionalities. This is primarily done in a manner where customer support activities become possible without any human intervention and can be easily scaled with a minimal workforce.
At stores like Sephora, customers can directly engage with the ‘magic mirrors’ and self-help their way to virtually try a range of products, colors, and make-up treatments.
Similarly, ASOS is a retail giant in the UK that actively showcases various types of clothing on different body types, enabling them to boost customer satisfaction and reduce the number of product returns. This is very effective for fashion retail and in the ‘virtual trial room’ where one can check the fit, color, size with auto bundling based on your choice of apparel.
2. Penetration of Mixed Shopper Reality
By simulating the very fabric of the reality that customers experience, AR/VR penetrates right into the customer experience threshold. By creating a controlled virtual environment, technologies manipulate objects within the space to create a mixed shopper reality that works in their favor. This is exemplified by brands like IKEA and Wayfair that leverage AR for furniture and home goods retailing.
By just using an app extension, customers can place any furniture in their catalogs inside the virtual version of their homes. Such visualization is promoting the culture of an immersive reality where consumers can experience the end results of their purchases on their fingertips.
3. Revolutionization of Retail Supply Chain
No supply chain is bereft of its fair share of issues and the retail industry has particularly struggled on this front for decades. The intervention of AR and VR in supply chain helps to eliminate manual errors and accelerate order processing, picking, and delivery.
Companies such as DHL, an international courier and express mail service, personify this by using technologies such as AR-powered smart glasses that guide the delivery guys to locate where to place the items on their carts or even the most efficient route through warehouses.
Other prominent use cases include:
- Increased real-time visibility into retail sites and warehouses
- Management of supply chain operations, especially during disasters
- Safer delivery processes with lesser mishaps or loss of quality
- Easier and secure delivery via reliable customer identification
4. Increased Inventory Visibility for Customers
With AR and VR, brands are now able to assist customers right on the product shelves, directly boosting the visibility and prominence of their products. Instead of traditional shelf advertising or blatant information boards, users can better know the practical aspects of the products, browse through entire virtual catalogs within minutes and experience an interactive shopping environment.
Consider the case of ShelfZone, an Italian startup, that helps large-scale retail companies to recreate their brick-and-mortar shopping complexes as virtual shopping options. The customers can use VR headsets to virtually walk into the stores and check out the entire product aisles without leaving the comfort of their homes.
5. Navigational Shopping Experience
The next best alternative to in-store assistance is the signage that retail outlets use. VR-enabled supermarkets and retail outlets today are deploying next-gen elements such as virtual floorplans, 3D lighting, HD items display, immersive walk-through, and more. Such a system accounts for the past buying patterns of customers and leverages the data to shape their present navigational experience. Similarly, there are stores-on demand that provides virtual aisle navigation. It is a collaboration ecosystem with fellow shoppers, and a Digital Associate, to get feedback about products and share competitive pricing information, personal offers and promos. This is a powerful experience as it relates with your physical store experience, activities and your anticipated intent.
VR/AR can be combined with geofencing to create virtual boundaries inside stores. These boundaries intuitively respond and trigger responses when customers enter and exit these. With in-store gamification, customers can be prompted about past products that they have shown interest in or intimated about price slashes.
Will it Last?
A lot of large retailers are closing their stores as they are a costly proposition due to high infrastructure costs involved. On the other hand, for some retailers, the benefits of the ‘virtual store’ are too compelling from an investment and returns perspective without compromising on the store experience. However, with all these apprehensions notwithstanding, there is no denying the fact that the amalgamation of AR/VR and retail is here to stay. Digitization is helping retail giants to not only cut down on their input costs (through efficient supply chains) but also explore better marketing and customer engagement strategies. AR and VR are actively functioning as a bridge between rich customer experiences and brand positioning, something that has evaded the industry for years.