Retail Virtual Reality Trends - Brick and Mortar Retail Stores in the US
Brick-and-mortar retail stores in the US are already using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in an effort to improve the consumer’s retail experience at their physical premises. There are a number of applications for the technologies which affect store layout and in-store technology, such as VR being used in the design of store layout, AR used in fitting room smart mirrors, AR used to enhance store displays and product information, and the novelty factor of VR to attract customers and increase foot traffic in stores. In the future, AR may be used to hyper-personalize the in-store shopping experience and VR may be used to create virtual pop-up stores in non-traditional locations.
VR in product placement and store design
VR is being used in the design or remodel of store layout, in order to visualize the layout prior to any outlay of construction costs, thus making this a cost-effective option. The VR interface can be used for predicting any “potential traffic issues” and in combination with data analysis, may provide insights such as “connections between product categories that are physically proximate”. Kimberly-Clark uses VR technology to plan their product placements without requiring a physical mock-up, which was a time-consuming option — by using VR it can now be done quickly and even remotely.
Kantar Consulting, a specialist retail consultancy practice that is part of the WPP group has a tool specifically for this called Perfect Category, which allows clients to test their store design virtually by combining a VR design environment and a data analysis tool that analyses information about shopper behavior along with purchase spend data. GlaxoSmithKline is using Kantar’s VR tools to test “pack designs and point of sale material”, which includes mobile eye tracking to optimize product placement on shelves. Stores and brands including like Walmart, Unilever and L’Oreal use Kantar’s VR design environment tool to create their retail designs.
AR in smart fitting rooms
AR has much potential in-store as it overlays "digital information-text, images, video and audio-on top of the physical world". First introduced by Uniqlo in 2012 in Japan, the use of AR via an LCD screen on the fitting room mirror provides customers the ability to view “overlays [of] different colors of the clothing”, something which other clothes retailers such as Adidas and Gap have since introduced. This could mean that the retail space could be smaller, as all colors would not have to be physically available in-store in order for the customer to try on. Rebecca Minkoff also uses smart mirrors, which as well as allowing the customer to conveniently see more styles, provides data to the business about what products are taken into the fitting room providing “insight to how customers are reacting to product”.
AR in product displays
Apple has used AR so that customers can “visualize the audio fidelity” of their HomePod speaker, which otherwise may be difficult to register over the noise in-store. Using custom iPads preloaded with AR software, customers can view graphics and text over when they hold it over the speaker, such as a look inside the device via an AR “cutaway of HomePod’s components”.
VR in product demonstrations
Lowe’s has been using VR in their in-store technology Holoroom since 2016, an in-store VR experience which allows users to “be immersed in a DIY project” along with a step-by-step guide of how to carry out the project. This training demonstrates to the customer how Lowe’s products are used before the customer commits to a purchase.
VR in in-store installations
Samsung, who manufacture VR devices, believe that as the technology is still quite new, it has a novelty factor that can attract consumers and so increase footfall, enhance customer engagement and “lead to increased dwell times”. A number of retailers in the US have used immersive VR installations at their stores to attract attention, recent examples including Barneys and Diane Von Furstenberg, which allow for events such as fashion shows to take place in spaces that would normally be too limited in size.
VR in virtual aisles
VR can be used to enhance the aisles in stores, creating VR “endless aisles” which allow retailers to display more items than can physically fit in the store, thus enabling them to use smaller store premises. An unnamed office furniture store is working on implementing this concept. Not only could the customer view more products, they could also be advised within the VR interface by a remote shop assistant.
VR in branded concept stores
The next generation of pop-up concept shops could be created using VR technology, allowing installations of branded concept shops in “airport[s], a waiting room[s] or other non-traditional locations”.
AR in hyper-personalized recommendations
Leading on from AR being used to display product information, AR could be used in conjunction with customer data to provide hyper-personalized recommendations that can be viewed as an overlay to the physical products. For example when grocery shopping, a customer with a food intolerance could see via an AR app whether an item is appropriate for them, far more quickly than checking ingredients.
Both AR and VR technologies are being used in a number of ways by retailers in their store layout and in-store technology; to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness as in the case of store layout design, in conjunction with shopper behavior and data analysis to optimize product placement, to attract and engage customers with immersive VR experiences and to enhance product display with AR. Future uses of these technologies include more use of data in conjunction with AR to provide customers with hyper-personalized recommendations, as well as the creation of VR stores in unusual locations.