Virtual Reality’s Promise for Retail

Virtual reality and its sister technology augmented reality (or VR and AR) have been long on promise but short on delivery in many ways. The technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, however, and 2017 might well be remembered as somewhat revolutionary as far as our shopping experiences are concerned.

Shopping in the future

VR’s applications to retail are potentially unlimited. Last February, Samsung let users in selected AT&T stores try on a Gear VR by Oculus in order to take a trip on a virtual cruise ship. Software from AR provider Cimagine generates life-like 3D product representations and then projects them in a space – think of a piece of furniture and seeing for yourself where it fits best.

Brands are already using VR and AR to reshape the shopping experience. It is becoming more and more workable for ecommerce-only retailers to open 3D stores, recreating the benefits of being in a physical location virtually. In the near future, customers will be trying on athletic gear in a 3D environment and decorating their houses with furniture from their favourite showroom, all on their tablet.

The customer is always right

Consumers, for their part, especially the youngest ones, appear to be very excited by the prospect of a more entertaining and personalised shopping experience, and they are already raising their expectations accordingly. According to research by J. Walter Thompson, 70% of US millennials and 62% of millennials in the UK feel that the application of AI to their shopping experience would be a positive. A full 80% of the findings’ teenage sample are more likely to shop where AI or special entertainment is on offer.

Opportunities not to be missed

For retailers, much of it comes down to improving attractiveness. A sensible application of VR and AR creates personalised shopping experiences, eliminates customer pain points, and integrates shopping with social media, all of which ultimately allow for better service. For some, such opportunities cannot be missed, especially in an industry witnessing upheaval to its traditional channels of distribution and marketing.

Investments, though, should be considered carefully where technology becomes outdated in no time. VR is a broad label, and retailers should understand what kind of application will properly benefit their business while they resist the temptation to go for the most futuristic option. Costs are still high, and the risk of misallocating resources is strong.

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