As Virtual and Augmented Reality filter their way into the mainstream and become an accepted part of our daily lives, more and more companies are starting to embrace the technology and use it within their marketing and sales strategies.
The use of immersive technology within the retail sector seems like a logical progression but it is not yet being widely adopted in the mass market, despite the demand being there from customers. A recent study in the US found 72% of 25-34 year old consumers want to use VR/AR in physical stores. Greenlight VR also released results recently from their survey that found 71% of customers feel VR makes brands seem forward-thinking and modern and 53% said they'd be more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn't. Consumers are ready for new, intelligent shopping experiences and brands that embrace the technology now have the advantage of being one of the first to market.
Virtual stores are already being experimented with by some leading brands and have been successful. The current technology is an in-store enhancement, but as the hardware improves this could have wider applications to in-home and will therefore be more scalable. VR offers customers the opportunity to try out and test products more easily, adding an element of fun to their shopping experience and a massive level of personalisation that is not possible via normal retail channels. This personalisation is not only proven to increase sales but also brand engagement, meaning that customers are more likely to repeat purchase.
For brands, VR also has uses beyond driving sales and customer engagement. The technology can be used at headquarters to plan store layouts and possible locations. It also has practical analysis applications for managers reviewing store performance in remote locations as they would be able to ‘visit’ the store and gain an element of context that would perhaps not be available in the real world.
VR retail in practice
North face - virtual tour
Westfield- showcase of key fashion trends
Ted Baker - virtual store
Ebay - virtual shop
AR is the most obvious use of immersive technology within the sector but is surprisingly not being used widely by retailers yet. As a reality overlay, it gives customers the opportunity to try before they buy in a very personalised way, literally being able to place furniture into their own homes or try on clothes without entering a changing room. It has easily accessible and practical applications for consumers, with almost everybody now having access to a smartphone at all times. The technology could not only create an easy and enjoyable shopping experience for customers but also help to reduce return rates for brands.
AR retail in practice
Ikea - overlay furniture into your house
Dulux - test paint colours on your walls
Sephora - try on makeup
At the moment, the use of VR and AR in retail is still a relatively new concept and is done by brands more for PR and engagement than real world practical application. However, this will change over time as the technology improves and companies begin to understand the process and measurement metrics. There is no doubt that immersive technology is a growth market and from a retail perspective mass market adoption is an inevitability. As a brand it is a logical next step to engage with the new generation of consumers and when used correctly will not only drive interaction, but will also increase sales and revenue.