Virtual / augmented reality in retail: keys in the shopping experience of the new generations
The pandemic has changed many aspects of people’s daily lives, but also the retail sector, with the come into play of augmented reality and virtual reality. Two modalities that offer more innovative and personalized shopping experiences.
The world has changed enormously after the coronavirus pandemic. It is so. And with this, brands have been forced to rethink their strategies to enhance the customer experience beyond websites and applications. Digital spaces, of course, have experienced an unstoppable boom since the end of 2019, but… What about physical stores?
The development of technology and online commerce have been the main drivers of the new leisure and consumer habits. For this reason, the retail sector has come to realize that favoring total digitization is more necessary than ever. And that’s where augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) come into play.
From the mere fact of turning web pages into virtual stores, VR and especially AR are the vehicles that should improve the interconnection between stores and customers, offering unique, individualized and useful virtual experiences.
Virtual reality in retail
Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive experience that takes us from an existing reality to a virtual one. What it allows, basically, is to simulate a scenario as if it were real by using a helmet, gloves, special glasses, etc.
Its potential in retail has, however, been diminished by the rise of augmented reality. And they are not the same thing.
Virtual Reality generates totally non-existent virtual worlds, while Augmented Reality combines non-existent elements with others that do exist.
Although virtual reality allows you to create much more immersive experiences, the appeal of augmented reality is greater because of its more faithful and useful image of reality.
For retail and virtual reality, the great bulwark is virtual stores. There, customers can easily browse, see what products you offer and buy what they consider. This is the case of Alibaba’s Buy + shopping platform.
It allows customers to browse stores while recreating parts of New York or we take a cab from Times Square to a virtual version of Macy’s.
Augmented reality: the future of retail
Although augmented reality has been installed in the retail industry for years, new consumer habits have led to an exponential growth of this technology. Especially with the paradigm changes that occurred with the pandemic: renewed forms of interaction between brands and their audiences, based on innovative, safe and highly technological shopping experiences.
Therefore, augmented reality (AR) has been a full stop in the shopping experience in the retail industry. And according to the latest published data, the growth of this sector thanks to RA is guaranteed at least until 2028.
Augmented reality is all that technology that allows you to visualize digital elements in real environments. Through the use of tablets, digital glasses, smartphones and other devices, the user perceives an overlapping data layer, mixing real elements with other digital ones.
The great ‘boom’ of augmented reality in the last decade has a name and surname: Pokemon GO. The popular Nintendo video game became a true mass phenomenon. And retailers have joined the wave of R&D to apply augmented reality in retail.
The possibilities of augmented reality are especially directed towards omnichannel, mixing the physical channel with the digital one. A challenge that, if harvested, provides juicy benefits for companies and brands.
What are the advantages and benefits of augmented reality in the retail sector?
Augmented reality is therefore a crucial tool to offer users extra information about products. How? Through videos, 3D animations or virtual objects that they can visualize in their spaces, for example when scanning the packaging of a product with a mobile. All of this translates into a number of benefits:
- Improved user experience and online shopping experience.
- Increase in the effectiveness of the purchasing processes and decrease in the rate of returns.
- Create further customization.
- Generate greater precision in purchases and decrease purchase times.
- Provides an optimal solution in the absence of space for store stock.
- Strengthens the brand-customer relationship and generates a greater connection between them.
Augmented reality applications
What retailers want is to know how they can apply this technology to improve the shopping experience so much. Here are some ideas:
In the fashion industry, the virtual fitting room or smart fitting room has been widely accepted. The customer can see himself with the product he wants, be it clothes, footwear or even makeup.
Projection of physical spaces means that, with AR, consumers can have a clearer and more tangible idea of what a piece of furniture, appliance or other products would look like in their home. In this regard, multinationals such as Ikea or Amazon have already implemented this solution.
In the case of the Swedish company, IKEA Place is an augmented reality app with which all products can be tested in 3D and in real scale depending on the dimensions of the room, with an accuracy of 98%.
The Future of AR: Internet of the Senses
The next step in augmented reality is undoubtedly the Internet of the Senses. What will this consist of? With the global implementation of 5G, it will be the human senses (sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing) that will determine the experiences between store and customer. Hence, the retail sector has to bet on a future of personalized seduction and with the latest technology as a flag.
Examples of augmented reality in retail
The revolution in shopping habits that augmented reality has driven is critical to understanding the present and future of retail. All over the world we find numerous examples and successful applications of AR.
The most important company in Spain, Inditex, is one of the pioneers in the introduction of technology in its stores. Like, for example, shop windows that at first glance seem empty but come to life thanks to the mobile screen and an app.
Stationery brand BIC marketed a children’s drawing book that, with the help of augmented reality, brings their creations to life.
Another sample is given by the jewelry brand Kendra Scott. The retailer introduced a range of agile solutions to the pandemic, such as an AR tool that allows customers to virtually try on different styles of earrings from their own homes.
On the other hand, Nike has Nike Fit, an application that, thanks to a combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, is able to find the exact number of our feet, with a variation of two millimeters. The best way to know which shoe size to choose, whatever the model and last.