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Mixed Retail-ality: How AR and VR Are Changing the Future of Retail

05/04/2016 10:22 | Updated 05 April 2016

Open your mind...

You're at home and in the mood to go shopping, so you get comfortable on your couch. No need to drive anywhere. No traffic, no crowds. With a touch of a button, your wearable device instantly scans your body's exact dimensions, and when you put on your AR/VR headset, you enter a store that is full of the brands and designers you love - and everything is just your size.

Before you get started, you invite a friend who lives on the other side of the world to come into your dressing room to share the shopping experience. You use voice commands to be shown specific items: "Black leather jackets under £300". Your eyes scan the rail, and the one you are immediately attracted to is recognised and appears on your avatar, no dressing or undressing.

You touch the screen of your device to feel the fabric. You turn your head to access your real closet to see if that belt you bought last month matches the jacket. It does, and you like it, so you buy it instantly, no cash, no cards, and a couple hours later a drone delivers it to your doorstep.

What if we told you that all the technology involved in this shopping experience exists today, and this scenario may not be as far off as you imagine? Is your business ready for the future?

Mixed Retail- ality: How AR & VR are changing the future of retail

Now that we seem to have gotten past virtual reality that gives you motion sickness, we can really start to grasp its impact on various business sectors, including retail. From reinventing visualisation and product development, to changing shopping behaviors and engaging customers in immersive brand experiences, leading brands are already starting to integrate VR solutions into their strategies and plans. But with Mark Zuckerberg recently quoted saying he thinks VR is still ten years away from being mainstream, it's worth examining why.

Investment firm Piper Jaffray has predicted the size of both markets to reach $5.4 billion by 2025, likening them to the early ages of mobile phones 15 years ago, while Digi-Capital predicts that VR and AR will grow to $120 billion by 2020, with $90 billion contributed solely to AR. This seems fairly optimistic considering that newer AR experiences are only now following up the failure of Google Glass. So how can they be so sure that VR hasn't usurped AR's market position?

It comes down to the fact that AR doesn't exclude reality, but rather includes it, which could be key to bringing mixed reality to the masses. While VR offers an immersive world that leaves reality behind, AR allows both worlds to coexist,which may be more appealing to people who already feel they spend too much time alone in front of a screen and not enough communicating with colleagues, friends and loved ones in real life. This inclusiveness might be vital in bridging the gap between gamers and early adopters, and the mainstream consumer market.

Ultimately, both AR and VR can offer companies advantages that didn't previously exist. Brands will benefit, saving time and money through visualisation before investments and the additional marketplace where there hadn't been one before. Employees will appreciate the convenience of a screenless, infinite interface, and the ability to collaborate across geographic locations. But who could benefit most are consumers.

Consumers will be able to shop from the comfort of their own home - no traffic, no waiting in line. They can tailor searches, like you would on the internet, compare multiple brands at the same time, personalise patterns on an avatar, and pay instantly through the secure device, all while sharing the experience with their friend who lives on the other side of the world. They will be treated by brands to virtually attend the exclusive, the dangerous, and the expensive, giving consumers an experience they might never be able to have in reality.

We should also remember that the two, VR and AR/mixed reality, are not mutually exclusive. We may find that VR is the perfect solution for collaborating across geographic locations, while AR is more useful for collaborating in person, and that the ultimate result may be one headset that does both in equal quality. Either way, these technologies have the potential to open many new doors, and fast, and brands with the biggest capacity for imagination will be the ones to come out on top.

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