The Impact VR & AR Will Have on the Retail Shopping Experience


Virtual reality (VR) has long been a term associated with video games and futurism. Thanks to swiftly developing VR and AR (augmented reality) technologies, however, retailers are now able to create custom, unique experiences for their customers. In fact, retail virtual reality is quickly becoming the go-to way to increase customers and enhance the overall customer experience.

Not sure how these technologies can impact your business? We’re sharing how real companies are making retail VR an integral part of their sales strategy!

Why Virtual Reality?

As retail stores struggle to find ways to attract new and existing customers to their stores, retail virtual reality and augmented reality offer tangible solutions. These tech experiences can help solve serious buying obstacles for customers, help consumers visualize purchases, and provide an exciting experience that encourages shoppers to tell their friends.

As online buying becomes the norm for more and more consumers, VR and AR offer retailers the chance to stay relevant. Often, these two technologies become a way for retailers to extend their reach from the brick and mortar store to the online world their customers inhabit.

What’s the Difference?

While similar, the two technologies differ notably. Virtual reality is immersive, and typically involves hardware (like a headset) that the store provides for the customer. These are almost always in-store experiences.

Augmented reality, however, uses technology to overlay sounds or images onto live video feeds. Snapchat, the social media giant, has done such a great job of introducing users to AR that most don’t even realize they’re using it.

Better In-Store Experiences

Retailers selling everything from tile to shoes to outdoor gear have found ways to incorporate retail VR into their store experiences.

Home Improvement Isn’t So Painful Anymore

Lowe’s, the home improvement and DIY giant, has combined virtual reality and augmented reality in a concept it calls the Holoroom. Home renovation customers slip on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset which allows them to “see” potential renovations in their own homes.

Lowe’s salespersons can personalize the virtual space with individual room sizes, equipment, colors, and finishings. Customers can select from literally thousands of Lowe’s products, swapping out choices even while in simulation mode. They can even view their design at home on YouTube 360 with a Google Cardboard viewer, which Lowe’s provides free of charge.

For Lowe’s, this retail virtual reality is a game changer. Before such technology, home renovators were forced to abstractly envision future renovations. All they had to help were paint swatches, Pinterest images, product shots, and paint chips.

Retail VR in stores now enables potential customers to overcome one of the largest hurdles they face in home improvement projects: how will this all look together? In the past, retailers like Lowe’s have sought to overcome this obstacle with sample show rooms. Thanks to VR and AR, however, the result is significantly more holistic and immersive. It also drastically increases the likelihood of shoppers using Lowe’s.

Bringing the Wilderness Indoors

Outdoor recreation provider North Face has also found a way to make retail VR work. In March 2015, the company debuted its first immersion vision experience: a VR video featuring rock climbing in Yosemite and the Moab Desert in Utah. The second video featured Nepal, and North Face partnered with Outside magazine to issue Google Cardboard to subscribers so they could view on their smartphones.

In 2016, North Face had equipped three retail locations with VR headsets, but partnering with Outside magazine to reach into people’s living rooms is a smart way to reach the customers who might not ever step foot into a North Face store.

Not only are the videos North Face created great ways to bring the wilderness indoors, but keeping the outdoors alive in customers’ minds through interactive technology encourages shoppers to associate North Face with their wilderness adventures. Further, North Face’s use of VR allows it to continue to stay relevant in the minds of millennial shoppers, who tend to do large amounts of their shopping online.

The Life-Changing Experience

If a company can help its consumers experience its benefits before even buying, that company might just have a customer for life. Retail virtual reality allows businesses to do just that.

Toms is an example of a retailer that has used VR to help its shoppers envision the difference they make. Customers who purchase a pair of Toms shoes are also purchasing a pair of shoes for an impoverished child in a third world country, and Toms has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in creating virtual reality videos that immerse the shopper in the giveback experience.

In over a hundred Toms stores, customers can use VR headsets to experience firsthand what it’s like to hand out shoes to children in Peru.

These types of VR experiences flow seamlessly between the consumer and the company’s mission and have a tremendous impact on the customer.

Augmenting Reality

Lowe’s, North Face, and Toms are using virtual reality in flagship ways, but retailers can also find simpler ways to utilize this powerful technology. Augmented reality, in fact, can be used to help internet browsers visualize potential new furniture placement or help shoppers “try on” clothing from the comfort of their own homes. Smart mirrors and virtual makeup apps are quickly becoming the norm for tech-savvy retailers looking to increase their market share.

Using VR the Smart Way

In today’s quickly evolving world of technology, the smartest retailers are finding ways to make retail virtual reality a vital part of their success. Whether it’s shopping for a room refresh, envisioning new furniture, clothing, or makeup, or becoming immersed in a life-changing new experience, consumers are learning to expect technology as part of their buying experience.

Savvy retailers can learn from the examples of companies like Lowe’s, North Face, Toms, and others to find fresh new ways to use VR and AR to help consumers overcome buying objectives, resulting in satisfied customers and increased sales.

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