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How VR and AR Can Enhance the Retail Experience

Danielle Adams looks at some of the ways immersive vision technologies can make buying and selling more of an experience

Emerging technologies change how we do business. It happens to every industry, from medicine to logistics, and retail is no different. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are changing the paradigm for many retail companies by engaging customers in new and interesting ways.

Not everyone is aware of how VR and AR can impact their businesses, though. So to help you imagine the possibilities, we’ve put together the following list of things real companies are actually doing with the technology, specifically in the retail industry. By the time you’re done reading this, you should have a good idea of what VR and AR can do for you.

VR Applications for the Customer Experience

VR’s primary feature is its immersion. It transports the user to somewhere else, and allows them to visualize a fully-engaging reality. While most associate it with video games right now, it has numerous applications outside of that industry.

The Holoroom

Lowe’s has begun offering a revolutionary experience for those looking to remodel their homes. Called the Holoroom, it makes it possible for customers to see what their finished project might look like, comparing and contrasting different options for things such as paint colors, cabinetry, and appliances. The Holoroom can use measurements from the actual room to recreate the space, and then applies the customer’s choices to the mock up. The customer slips on a head-mounted display (HMD), and suddenly they’re standing in the finished room, designed to their specifications. This allows them to make style and color choices, ensuring they get just what they want the first time, which improves conversion rates.

Experience Enhancement

Toms—the shoe, eyewear, and coffee retailer—is using a different approach. They start with a one-for-one campaign, where every pair of shoes purchased also pays for a donation (a pair of shoes given to a needy child in Peru). Then they add the VR: an immersive video of the shoes actually being donated. Customers can see the actual impact their purchase is making in the lives of others, as if they had been there. It’s increasing brand loyalty, and support for the company’s efforts.

The New Reality

As unexpected as it is to have a shoe company pioneering VR experiences, Bullfrog Spas has come from even further out of left field. Using proprietary rigs to film a more intimate VR experience, they have created a series of VR-powered showroom sales kits designed to help sell their products. It’s working—leveraging their engaging and interactive experience, potential customers are given the opportunity to sit in the hot tubs and see them in action with no need of a bathing suit.

AR Applications

AR makes its mark by mixing the virtual with the real, usually by overlaying a virtual image on top of reality. Advantages here include accessibility, as most AR can be done on a tablet or a smartphone, as opposed to expensive HMDs. With regards to retail, it’s perhaps getting even more bang for its buck than VR.

For the Home

AR helps customers envision what products will look like in their home, with everything from TVs to furniture. Using devices they already own, the customer can see a visualization of what the couch, TV, or fridge would look like in the space they have. This helps them make decisions about things like size, shape, color, placement, and so forth. It helps them be more sure of the purchase, which makes for fewer returns and higher customer satisfaction.

For the Wardrobe

In a similar way, technology is emerging that makes it possible for shoppers to see what a product will look like while they’re wearing it. Smart mirrors, virtual makeup apps, and trying on virtual watches are all possible with the technology.

Both AR and VR are both in their infant stages, meaning what’s possible now is a fraction of what will be possible in the future. Buy-in to these technologies is also steadily increasing, which means staying ahead of competitors requires staying ahead of the learning curve. So whether you sell shoes or spas, you’re going to want a piece of the virtual pie.

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