Retail IT is still in its infancy and is yet to become general practice, but given the popularity of video, the immersive experience will undoubtedly catch on. The explanation lies in the fact that the wealth of information and the extensive range of products on offer are overwhelming for consumers. Having the opportunity to try products by touching a button in an environment that feels real is what can make the shopping experience more animated and less stressful. Also, through VR, even regular customers can experience VIP treatment at no additional cost. Sitting in the front row at the Paris Fashion Week without leaving your local mall or, soon, your own house, will become the norm.
From AR to VR
These trends are adopted step by step, and the first one was augmented reality. This meant simply enhancing an existing picture or view with added virtual elements. AR is most useful in areas like home decorations and make-up, yet it does not offer a complete immersive experience. On the contrary, VR can make customers feel real sensations by engaging not only vision but more senses. Most VR simulators include headphones and movement sensors which trick the mind that the sensation is real.
Benefits of Using VR in Retail
Using VR is still so innovative that it will immediately give you the upper hand in the relationship with your customers by simply providing a “wow factor”. Companies going for it will not only become pioneers but be able to generate positive word of mouth through new experiences.
Enhanced Customer Experience
VR is the cheapest and safest way to let customers experience things that could be possibly out of reach, dangerous or unfeasible due to high costs. For example, a customer can experience a VR wedding simulation, driving a Lamborghini or taking part in a space expedition.
Also, they could try on the entire new season collection after a body scan with the help of an Oculus device. This not only saves the store from the need to keep large stocks covering every style and size, but is also a much more comfortable choice for the customer. It removes the need to dress and undress dozens of times.
Such experiences can expand the shopper’s involvement with the brand and make them grow more accustomed to the offer. This process is known to cut down the time necessary to make a decision. Also, for those who have a hard time imagining changes, VR brings them to life, in color.
Speeding Up Development and Cutting Costs
Not only customers can take advantage of the improvements brought by VR, but managers too. There are tools built with this technology that allows them to create realistic floor plans and displays and to test these before putting them in practice. Once established, these spaces can be validated by shoppers through a walk in the virtual store using specific devices. Managers can test to see if the merchandise was correctly placed, in a logical and accessible way.
By moving specific items such as display models, banners or TV screens in the VR simulation and testing the shoppers’ response, retail chains can design perfect environments that are optimized for selling, without losing countless hours of moving shop items around just to find out it is not what they were looking for.
The Drawbacks of VR
Currently, the most significant disadvantage of the VR technology is that it is still a novelty and a toy for geeks. It has not crossed the chasm towards mass adoption, and its price is still prohibitive compared to usability. The costs of developing a VR environment are that high since it requires both 3D and 2D modeling which comes at the price of about $100/hour for a well-qualified designer.
Since a VR device is not a standard item in every household, the VR experience remains something to be tested in store, as part of the brand communication strategy.
Also, since VR is not yet compatible with all smartphones, it is difficult to integrate with the omnichannel approach or even with the online shopping experience. Of course, as cheaper devices will be developed, including Google Cardboard, we can hope that we will have our own dressing room app from each significant clothes retailer.
At this stage the experience is still not perfect but more like a prototype of what the future holds. There are a lot of developments to be made to engage all the senses fully. For example, there is no VR equivalent for smells, and the touch and weight dimensions are also underrepresented.
VR is already in major retailers’ business plans not only as a craze but as a way to connect with customers genuinely and trigger an emotional response. Here are a few examples of AR/VR in retail.
Ikea developed an AR showroom where you can see how your furniture of choice would look like in your living room. Although impressive, this is just scratching the surface compared to China’s Alibaba Virtual Mall. This time Amazon was left behind, but will undoubtedly catch up.
The virtual environment offers the chance to experience extreme conditions, and that is why North Face wants to take its customers for a hike to discover their products and even inspired Mercedes to get into the exploratory spirit, huskies included.
The Retail of the Future
The goal in retail now is to be as customer-centric as possible. AR and now VR are great tools to make customers feel in the center of events, and the Millennial generation is very fond of experiences. Therefore, any brand targeting this segment will get their appreciation of such an innovative approach. So far, VR has been used just marginally as an attention-grabbing tool in limited PR initiatives, but it is expected to grow more than three times until 2020 compared to 2017. The time has come to use the technology to its full potential both as a sales enhancer and as a management facilitator.