Technology advancements are disrupting the way enterprises connect with their customers. The retail industry has been at the forefront when it comes to experimenting with emerging technologies to build delightful customer experiences.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are the buzzwords in today’s tech-world. Retailers are leveraging these new-age technologies to revolutionise the way they connect and engage with the new-age buyers.
With AR and VR, in-store and online customer experiences are merging:
Brick and mortar stores are still the preferred medium of shopping. The primary reason behind this is, that in-store shopping allows buyers to touch and feel the products and bring them home immediately. Online platforms lack in providing customers with the thrill they get while shopping in a physical store.
Most e-commerce brands are offering one-day delivery options, to woo today’s impatient shoppers. But, online platforms still cannot match the in-store shopping experience without giving buyers an option to touch and feel the actual product.
Retailers are looking forward to technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to bridge this gap. It is projected that retail industry’s investment in AR/VR will touch around $30 Billion by 2020. Retailers are using these technologies to improve both online and in-store shopping experiences for customers.
Let’s take a look at some interesting ways retail brands across the globe are using AR and VR technologies to create exciting and delightful customer experiences.
1) Simplifying search
According to Rohith Bhat, CEO, Robosoft technologies ‘95 percent of all information humans consume is visual. AR is about the experience and consuming information in real time, which is really the next logical progression from something as pervasive as the Google search engine. AR removes the part of the current process of searching for information on Google, which is that you have to know what to search for, and then sort through information to find it’.
Augmented reality is making search simple for customers. It enables them to find information about stores through image-based platforms like Google Lens, therefore turning these platforms into front-end stores. Using AR people can just click the picture of a store in front of them, and Google Lens will display all the information about it
2) Assisting customers while shopping in-store
Augmented Reality apps are doubling up as shopping assistants for customers and assisting them with product information, product searches etc. while they are shopping in-store. E.g. Lowe’s has built an AR based in-store navigation app which helps shoppers to find look items while shopping. The app creates digital directions for shoppers to help them reach the product they are looking for easily.
3) Helping customers make informed decisions
While online shopping is convenient, it does not allow customers to try their products in real-time before deciding to buy. This limitation also adds onto the customer service cost for retailers, where they have to arrange for pickups and exchange of the merchandise. Retailers are using AR to help customers try out a product in a real scenario, helping them choose the right products. Here are few interesting examples:
– Home furnishing retailer IKEA, has introduced an AR-based app which can help customers superimpose the 3D models of IKEA’s products in their home setting and decide if the furniture goes well with their interiors.
– Fashion brands are using AR to delight customers by creating virtual trial rooms. Uniqlo, a Japan-based retail store has deployed AR based LCD screens in their stores, which let buyers virtually try the apparels.
– GAP has also launched its ‘dressing room app’ in collaboration with Google and Avametric. The app lets shoppers fill in their measurements like height, weight etc. based on which it creates a virtual mannequin/model of the user. Customers can see how an apparel looks on their virtual model and make a purchase directly from the app.
4) Engaging customers with delightful experiences
Virtual reality helps retailers to make in-store shopping experiences exciting and fun for customers and also allows them to experience the product in the desired or a fantasy setting outside stores. For instance:
– Retailers like Lowe’s are helping customers visualise their ‘dream room’ with decorative products from Lowe’s retail store. Lowe’s introduced a Holoroom in their stores, which uses a VR based visualisation tool, to help customers choose products from the store and virtually build and experience their dream room.
– North Face is delighting customers by offering customers to experience their winter wear collection in an adventurous snowscape setting sitting on a sledge pulled by fictional Huskies.
Before diving into any of these technologies retailers must think through the pros and cons of each. For instance, VR has generated a lot of buzz and excitement, but it is costlier to implement. Also, customers are still not used to engaging with VR devices beyond gaming. AR, on the other hand, uses simulations from the real world and augment user’s experience by overlaying virtual elements on it. It cannot create the excitement and thrill that VR can but it is easier to implement because any smartphone can be an AR platform.
Retail brands which are ready to experiment with these technologies should have a clear-cut strategy to do so. They will have to think carefully about how they can leverage these technologies to drive real value for buyers and not just use them as mere marketing gimmicks.