With e-commerce advancing in seven-league steps, traditional retail stores also hear the call to embrace digital disruption and move their business to online space or establish an omnichannel commerce platform in an attempt to reach customers via all possible means.
Nowadays, there is hardly a retail business without an online shopping application, as keeping solely to offline sales is a recipe for failure and bankruptcy.
New brands and marketplaces start their business online only, while some existing stores even close their offline operations due to low profit against high cost.
Brick-and-mortar retail stores are now facing multiple challenges – customer numbers are dropping off in favor online shopping platforms, and the so-called “showrooming” – a very discouraging trend where customers are visiting offline stores to try and test the product, to get expert advice only and make the purchase online.
In order to attract customers to their offline stores, retailers are looking for ways to apply technology creating unique shopping experiences.
VR and AR technologies are gaining ground in retail
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have become true buzzwords recently, as they represent new cutting-edge technologies offering vast possibilities.
For many, VR and AR mainly refer to entertainment or education. However, current data shows that virtual and augmented reality are steadily gaining ground in retail commerce.
1. How Virtual Reality is used by retail stores.
In the context of retail shopping, VR creates an immersive experience where the user is transported to the virtual environment.
It is especially effective in interior design, architecture and furniture stores, as Virtual Reality allows the customers to literally “step” into their new homes.
With IKEA VR Kitchen, you can find yourselves in a real, life-sized kitchen where you can try doing the ordinary things you do in your kitchen – opening doors, pulling out drawers, working the appliances.
Using virtual reality you can change the color of cabinets or countertops and see the overall effect.
2. How Augmented Reality is used in retail and commerce.
Augmented Reality, in its turn, is more about an actual trial of a product without complete immersion. It is an overlay of the product on the existing environment allowing you to see how it really “fits”.
AR is easier to implement in retail commerce than VR, as it requires no additional hardware and can be viewed directly from the available devices, such as computer screens or smartphones.
For example, if you are planning a house renovation, you can try the Dulux Visualizer App to see how your rooms look in this or that color before actually buying the paint.
Mixed commerce with AR and VR brings innovation to brick-and-mortar stores
With its highly visual and realistic customer experience, VR/AR is focused on presenting the brand and displaying the products while supporting no buying options – for customers, VR/AR is more entertainment than shopping.
Hence, many brands turn to mixed commerce solutions, new shopping environments combining both online and offline sales.
The innovation of mixed commerce is in creating a new approach to the shopping process.
In mixed commerce, the traditional brick-and-mortar store merges with online shopping, allowing customers to “try and feel” the product before buying with the ease and convenience characteristic to online stores.
The retail mixed commerce heavily relies on Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality creating three-dimensional visual environments where users can manipulate the objects to see how they perform in real life.
Such an experience increases the customer’s confidence and trust towards the brand.
The other important side of mixed commerce is that it brings the virtual and augmented reality shopping to customers wherever they are – in ordinary offline stores, at home, in other places people visit frequently.
Currently, retail brands follow three distinct mixed commerce trends applying AR/VR technology to create positive buying experience: installation of mixed commerce kiosks, digital re-equipment of the existing stores and development of AR applications allowing to view products at home.
Mixed Commerce Kiosks
They are strategically placed in areas visited by large numbers of people – shopping malls, public transport stations, sports facilities – to bring the product to the customers without maintaining an actual offline store.
The central component of the kiosk is a touchscreen where customers can select, view and try the products.
Most often, such technology is used by clothing, jewelry, and makeup brands, offering people to try on their items immediately and to purchase the fitting ones.
For example, Bloomingdale’s store held a Father’s Day offer together with Ralph Lauren. Several large touchscreens allowed browsing the items, customizing them according to your preferences and putting together entire outfits.
Afterwards, customers could send a text message to Ralph Lauren allowing them to make the purchase.
The same technology was used by eBay in cooperation with several brands – Sony, Rebecca Minkoff and TOMS shoes.
The eBay Connected Glass touchscreens were installed in a shopping mall for people to browse and select items. When they were ready to make a purchase, they received a link via their phones by which they made the payment.
What is interesting is that of the three brands participating in the campaign, only Sony had a real offline store in the same shopping mall.
Digitally Enabled Stores
In order to withstand the fierce competition with online shopping, the existing brick-and-mortar stores enhance their facilities with AR/VR equipment.
Customers can try and test the products and visualize the end results in the realistic conditions before buying them, and the retail brands get the benefit of offering a wide range of items and services while keeping the relatively small physical store space.
Sephora, a beauty brand, recently opened its Sephora Studio in Boston featuring iPhone 7 devices with a number of Sephora beauty applications, product descriptions, a personalized Digital Makeover Guide providing recommendations based on the user data, and a lot of other options.
Also, the store boasts Augmented Reality screens where visitors can try on the selected products.
All this beauty experience fits into a space half the size of the regular Sephora stores.
On the other hand, Canadian Tire, a retail store for automobile, sports, and related goods, is not aiming for the smallest space possible.
On the contrary, here the emphasis is placed on achieving the richest customer experience possible via dozens of interactive screens where users can test products which are offered in the same store.
You can test drive your new tires or virtually redesign your pattern immediately inside the store with the Canadian Tire proprietary tools built using the Oculus VR technology.
Augmented Reality Applications for Product Visualization at Home
Augmented reality technology is the extension of online shopping to which most of us are used to already. When we buy something online for the first time, it is always a sort of a “pig in a poke”.
AR apps give users a chance to visualize the items in the same conditions they will be used.
Augmented reality increases the customer’s confidence and eases decision-making.
We have already mentioned the Dulux Visualizer App as a good example of Augmented Reality allowing customers to view the wall colors right on your smartphone screen.
Amazon, a global online marketplace, recently rolled out a new version of its Shopping Made Easy application for iOS smartphones featuring Augmented Reality.
While you are browsing thousands of products available for purchase, you can immediately visualize them in the interior of your apartment or house. Just select the item and point the smartphone camera at the spot where you want to place it.
Moreover, you can move and rotate the item on the screen to create the most realistic scenes.
Watch the Amazon video showing how easy and convenient shopping becomes with Augmented Reality.
This question retail brands keep asking themselves. Is this the general direction the commerce is taking?
Is this trend towards digitization of all things related to shopping going to stay?
Is virtual, augmented and mixed reality shopping the future of the retail commerce industry?
Well, it looks very likely.
The digital transformation of the retail commerce sector is gaining momentum, and to survive the competition you have to ride this wave bringing your shopping facilities into the digital space and adopting the state-of-the-art technologies as early as possible.
Customers who have experienced the comfort and ease of shopping right from their couch will hardly be motivated to visit physical stores unless driven by a unique experience.
So, the stores will have to come to them.
Mixed commerce requires increasingly more sophisticated hardware to create the most realistic and interactive customer experience.
The VR hardware market offers both wired and wireless VR headsets, those which are connected to a PC and those requiring no such connection.
The touchscreen sector is closely following with fully immersive HD screens – Samsung Display Solutions is the leader in this area.
This trend has also defined an area in software development – mixed commerce app design and development.
Many retail brands create their own applications or outsource the application development to dedicated professional companies to ensure that the final product will display sufficient performance, reliability, and scalability.
This may be the best approach to making a mixed commerce application, as it will guarantee that the solution will be unique, recognizable and easily customizable.
A convenient and user-friendly application featuring advanced technology such as virtual and augmented reality and creating stunning customer experience will make you stand out from the competition.
In today’s rapidly changing world, a business has to be extremely flexible to survive, and retail commerce is no exception.
The existing technology opens the most extensive variety of opportunities for every retailer wishing to remain competitive; you only need to choose the model you are going to adopt.
Embrace the change, face the challenge, be a forerunner.
The future is here.
Our company has experience both in augmented and virtual reality development for various retail fields. We will help you choose the most appropriate type of AR or VR application for your area, target audience and budget. Contact us to get the most out of augmented and virtual reality.
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