Following the broad AR/VR trends overview in Part I, we explore what some of the targeted mobile AR and VR applications will likely look like and how these will provide an increasingly personalised, immersive experience for customers – in this Part II, Retail.
Virtual and Augmented Reality have already been making waves in retail over the last 18 months, with the planet’s biggest retailers making moves to take control of this emerging category. Both e-commerce pure plays and bricks and mortar retailers are recognising that AR and VR are helping address some of the key challenges they face in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
The Rise of Virtual Commerce
With pure play e-commerce, matching the real-world product experience can be a hurdle, and one that VR and AR are increasingly being used to address. The world’s largest retailer, Alibaba, launched a VR store called Buy+ that allows shoppers to peruse a VR mall containing major store brands like Macy’s, Target and Costco. Internet auction giant eBay teamed with Australian retailer Myer for what was touted as “the world’s first VR department store.” Meanwhile, retail giant Amazon may not be far behind, as recent job postings hint at a future VR for Prime shoppers.
With high-value purchases, online has been primarily about showrooming with transactions still closed physically. Now with VR, high-value product categories are starting to open up to the e-commerce sector. There’s already a VR car dealership, and VR for real estate has been gaining traction for a while. Ikea is also embracing VR by allowing shoppers to design their dream kitchen, something home improvement giant Lowe’s started working on a few years ago.
Invigorating the Omni-Channel Experience
Another key challenge facing retailers is the growing customer expectation of a seamless, omni-channel experience. Communication that integrates across all brand channels and brings together the convenience of an e-commerce transaction with inspiring and engaging in-store product experience still often proves elusive.
In apparel, for example, we’ve seen VR recreate the excitement and energy of the front row runway experience, bringing the normally more exclusive experience to many more and creating substantially more exposure for the brands. Brands like Dior and Topshop experimented with this in 2016, and they’ll likely continue to invest more in the upcoming year, because it’s creating a place to make a much more intimate connection with consumers. Recently, we also saw Google partner with fashion brand Rag & Bone to create a VR mini documentary that previewed Rag & Bone’s New York Fashion Week show. 2017 will also see Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture manufacturer in the world, bring VR into its showrooms for the first time.
It’s clear that the retail model is undergoing fundamental shifts and both e-commerce pure plays and bricks and mortar retailers are recognising that AR and VR solutions can help them successfully evolve. Over the next year, we expect to see more of our retail customers succeed in driving deeper engagement and increasing sales as they integrate the technology in innovative applications where it can add value.