Virtual reality experienced a renaissance in 2016 with the public release of systems like the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and Google’s Daydream VR. This hype has not evaded the retail industry. In fact, a recent ‘future of shopping’ report has predicted that virtual reality shopping will replace the high street by 2050.

For 2017, it’s the application of this technology that will dictate whether it is universally adopted. In this regard, VR’s success is linked to its acronymous sister AR (augmented reality), which overlays digital information onto the real world, rather than VR’s entirely computer generated experience. Each technology brings different advantages to retailing, so brands have been experimenting with both VR and AR during 2016, showing the next cohort of digitally adventurous retailers how the technologies can be used successfully.

Harrods – the quintessential British department store has incorporated 500 Bluetooth iBeacons into its London flagship, bringing together the digital and real worlds while helping shoppers find items they are looking for more easily. The Harrods app now features ‘in-store Sat-Nav’ with the beacons tracking users’ locations inside the shop and providing directions to where the customer would like to go. The brand has found a smart way to improve the customers’ experience in store through their mobile device, rather than letting the phone be a distraction, which might prevent a purchase.

Burberry – the British fashion brand has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing the latest technology in-store. The brand uses RFID technology to drive it’s now famous ‘magic mirrors’, which provide extra details about garments on display, such as showing how the garment is made. This helps customers make a more informed choice about their purchases as well as making the in-store shopping experience more special than shopping online.

Ebay and Myer – earlier in 2016, Myer, the Australian department store and Ebay teamed up to create a ‘virtual reality department store’, which they heralded as ‘the fourth channel of retail’. The store adapts to customer’s shopping habits, personalising what products are shown to the shopper. Users can use a VR headset to explore the virtual store at home, and can browse and make purchases all within the virtual world. The top 100 products are displayed as 3D models, enabling users to get a better sense of the size of the products they are looking at buying, speeding up the purchasing process and providing a deeper level of interaction and detail to online shopping with the Myer brand.

Converse – the long-lived shoe brand delivered the best of both worlds with its first augmented reality app in 2016, which enables users to see exactly how a new pair of trainers would look on their feet. The app recognises the user’s foot through the camera and maps on a virtual shoe, creating a virtual dressing room on the phone’s screen. Not only does the technology improve conversion rates, but it also reduces return rates since consumers can ‘try on’ their shoes at home before ordering.

While it is possible that retailers will soon have the technology available to enable consumers to try on clothes virtually at home, it is an audacious bet to make that the high street will be totally replaced digitally. The technology is still nascent, however, there are encouraging and exciting signs of its use. Even now, retailers have the scope to create projects ranging from simple 360 degree videos to full-body motion tracking and walking through a complex environment. As 2017 unfolds, we will wait to see how the technologies evolve at retailers and whether brands can find ways to make them useful and relevant to their shopping experiences.

 

By Saima Alibhai, professional services practice manager at Bronto


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