Amit Mangwani, Director, Retail Marketing, Intel, Asia Pacific and Japan
We live in transformative times when new technologies are changing the world as we know it. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are both extremely promising new technologies with the potential to disrupt retail in exciting ways. We are already seeing the introduction of 'retailtainment' in stores by retailers, wherein entertainment merges with retail to deliver unique and engaging experiences. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that virtual commerce, just like e-commerce, will be an important part of every retailer’s strategy in the near future. Some projections put AR and VR investment in retail globally at close to $30 billion by 2020.
With e-commerce, shoppers have already stopped associating retail with merely tangible experiences in the physical realm. With the addition of VR & AR to this online experience, their visual and auditory senses will come into play as well with entertaining realities in a meaningful and immersive way, creating retail experiences like never before.
VR will help enable engaging experiences that allow customers to not just look at the product they want to purchase but also get an experiential feel of the product aligned with the brand’s identity! That’s exactly what leading American outdoor apparel brand North Face did – they created a VR experience that took shoppers to Yosemite National Park. Inside, you could virtually shop in the brand’s stores, and even tour the park and climb rocks. This is the kind of experience shoppers, especially those who identify strongly with a particular brand, would enjoy.
In another impressive instance of VR use, Samsung installed zones at a shopping centre in London where shoppers got to experience the brand’s VR products. Visitors enjoyed different VR experiences, of which the most popular was the one where they were taken on a thrilling rollercoaster ride at California’s Six Flags Magic Mountain Amusement Park.
The zones drew nearly 1,25,000 visitors in just two and a half weeks! What this shows us is that shoppers are open to new and engaging experiences in a retail environment.
VR and AR Are Empowering Retailers To Deliver Unique And Memorable Experiences In Innovative Game-Changing Ways
VR also enables simulations of situations in which products are likely to be used. For instance, shoppers no longer have to imagine test driving cars in challenging environments. Brands like Volvo and Ford have made it possible to experience it, albeit virtually, as has Audi.
The German auto maker has creat¬ed a ‘virtual dealership’ where shop¬pers just strap on a VR device and ex¬plore every element inside and outside the car. The experience, leveraging Oculus Rift and HTC Vive doesn’t end there – shoppers can even check out the car against different pre-set environments. This caters to a rising shopper demand for virtual demon¬strations prior to making purchases. A study by a British-American retail chain reveals that 45 percent shoppers want virtual demos and 32 percent want virtual assistance to better under¬stand products by experiencing them in a virtual setting. While these cut-ting-edge experiences are enabled by some of the most advanced devices, many keep the user wired. In an effort to untether the user, Intel has launched Project Alloy, to develop an all-in-one VR solution based on the Intel RealSense technology which pow¬ers the Alloy Head Mounted Device that allows users to stay untethered while they experience Merged Reali¬ty, where the real and virtual worlds are intertwined. Integrated in retail, it can facilitate a more immersive expe¬rience sans wires.
AR is another promising technology that layers images and holograms that can be interacted with, over things in the real world. In retail, AR has opened doors to new experiences that provide great value to shoppers and retailers. Take a look at the AR project Microsoft and Lowe’s, an American home improvement chain of stores, have collaborated on. Together they will bring Microsoft’s HoloLens, an AR visor that will enable shoppers to visualize designs of unassembled household appliances and furnishings. With this, shoppers will no longer have to imagine what an item will look like in their home. In fact, AR initiatives like that by Burberry, a British luxury fashion house, bring the same convenience to personal style too. The brand has created a nail bar at their Burberry Beauty Box store, where shoppers can choose skin tone, see how selected nail colours look against it and pick the best suited ones. This takes the guess work and stress out of making the right style choice.
Taking new and interesting shopping experiences to another lev¬el is the Intel Core i7 processor-pow¬ered Memory Mirror, from MemoMi, installed at American luxury depart¬ment store, Neiman Marcus. It gives shoppers the ability to scan record and share their measurements (360o) with retailers, who can store this in¬formation so shoppers can access it when they revisit. It also keeps track of all the items a shopper has tried and lets them review it. The mirror is set to make shopping more seamless and relevant.
VR and AR are empowering retailers to deliver unique and memorable experiences in innovative game-changing ways. This merging of virtual and real worlds and entertainment and shopping experiences has given rise to retailtainment, the next big revolution. Together, VR and AR are shaping the future of retail, a future that I’m excited to see evolving.
Intel empowers the majority of the world’s data centers, connecting millions of mobile and Internet of Things devices. It also secures and protects enterprises and government IT systems. Founded in the year 1968, Intel is presently operating from California, U.S.