Covid-19 has accelerated the demand for everything virtual, resulting in industries across the globe adopting new technologies and embracing digital transformation to win in this "New Normal". Prolonged lockdown across the globe coupled with concerns about safety and hygiene, has resulted in many retailers providing a digital alternative for customers to try products. According to the latest IBM Retail Report, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the move towards digital shopping by five years.
The retail industry is witnessing a shift from "in-store shopping" towards more digital touchpoints such as "online shopping", "click and collect" and "touchless in-store experience".
One technology that has witnessed increased adoption in the retail industry is Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality. In this article, we look at specific AR/VR apps and experiences that are transforming the shopping experience of digital buyers.
Virtual Fitting Rooms
Warby Parker is an eyewear company selling contacts, prescription lenses, and sunglasses. From the website, users can browse catalogs, or even get access to eye exams. The Warby Parker app allows users to conduct a virtual try-on of select frames.
Companies such as Ulta Beauty, provide a virtual live try-on experience to their customers through their GLAMlab app.
Viewing Items in Room
One of the more common use cases for augmented reality in retail comes in the form of interior design.
Amazon AR View allows users to virtually test pieces of furniture in their homes through the camera on their mobile devices. The items appear to scale with dimensions displayed along the image to help users understand how the furniture might physically fit in their home. AR View is a feature accessible through the Amazon mobile app.
A similar case is that of art dealers at Saatchi. Because the art that they sell is two-dimensional, dimensional guides aren’t quite as important. However, dealing in one-of-a-kind pieces that are more expensive than the average sectional, Saatchi has prepared an Augmented Reality solution for testing art in the home before it’s purchased. The solution again is within the Saatchi App.
US-based start-up, SeekXR provides e-commerce platforms with tools to provide similar solutions. A key difference is that SeekXR creates web-based experiences that allow users to view the AR objects through the e-retailer’s website in their browser window instead of requiring them to download an app. The company has patented its technology that can convert "any type" of the 3D model into a platform-agnostic augmented reality asset.
Rethinking Retail Locations
The solutions that we’ve looked at so far are all solutions for people to bring retail into their own homes and offices. However, AR/VR technology is also changing the way that we experience retail within brick-and-mortar retail locations.
AR Windows by Ads Reality are in-store installations that allow window shoppers to see themselves in-store displays. The interactive displays can showcase products as well as provide additional information and custom interactions with the shopper, controlled through their mobile device.
Resonai offers Augmented Reality solutions to retailers, combined with Artificial Intelligence technology and Internet of Things functionality. For shoppers, this application can help them navigate the store, find information on products, and discover new items within the store. For retailers, the application collects and interprets information on shopping behaviors and helps to manage inventory.
Virtual Test Drives in Automotive Retail
All of the solutions that we’ve looked at so far have been Augmented Reality experiences. But, what about Virtual Reality?
Because Augmented Reality solutions work with most mobile phone cameras or laptop webcams, they don’t require hardware investments. Virtual Reality solutions, on the other hand, require more expensive hardware that is not (yet) ubiquitous. That does not mean that use cases do not exist, it just means that those use cases are for higher-ticket items.
Auto manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Toyota have VR solutions for bringing cars to customers and letting them experience the vehicles in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. This approach requires the dealers to have headsets on hand, which are then used by multiple prospective customers. The VR application allows users to be immersed in the virtual world, conveying an inclusive, detailed image before the purchase decision. The configured vehicle can be experienced in three dimensions and 360 degrees, with all light and sound effects.
While this approach has fallen out of vogue during the coronavirus, headset manufacturers are making their devices with more easy-to-clean components. The market for sanitizing equipment for VR headsets has also matured very rapidly in the last few months, meaning that use cases like this one might be back sooner than later.
Augmenting the Future of Retail
AR/VR technologies in retail make it easier for customers to shop from home, and they make the trip to the store more engaging and efficient. While many of these use cases require a significant initial investment from retailers, more and more platforms like Resonai and Seek XR are compounding AR/VR with other technologies to drastically increase Returns on Investment.
Just like students attending school through Zoom or employees working from home or doctors attending patients over video calls, AR/VR would turn from a nice to have feature to a necessity in the retail industry soon.