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Role VR/AR play in Retailer’s Digital Transformation

One of the most explored technology today is Virtual / Augmented Reality

Both VR/AR aim to bring an immersive & interactive experience of the virtual world to the user in their own ways

With VR, the user is ‘teleported’  into a virtual world wherein all of their interactions provide a ‘realistic feel’ with that fabricated environment

With AR, users can interact with virtual objects in the real world around them

In conjunction with Connectivity & Internet of Things (IoT), businesses across industry verticals are increasingly uncovering the virtually never ending benefits of VR/AR solutions…

…such as the Entertainment industry (Virtual Cinema & Theater)Education industry (virtual classroom)Print & Media industry (augmented Ads/immersive & interactive content)Automotive industry (augmented driving aids, vehicle manuals, virtual showroom) and even Health industry (virtual doctor consultations, monitoring & diagnostics) are just few of the examples

The benefits VR/AR technologies extend to the Retail industry and related  opportunities are ‘virtually’ limitless

Already, many Retailers are realizing the role of VR/AR in creating an immersive, contextual & personalized experience that reaches beyond existing physical & digital channels for their customers

VR/AR could assist in bringing the in-store shopping experience back home, complete with virtual aisles, merchandising, shopping cart and virtual product handling (sans taste & smell for now)


Exploring 4 Scenarios

1. Virtual Aisles

Case Scenario

With a VR system, one could walk through their neighborhood store’s aisles, interact with store staff, see new products and take part in doorbuster sales events… all from their couch

In effect VR converts a user’s virtual actions into real commerce activity, thus giving the aging e-Commerce a facelift into 3D immersive ‘V-experience’

Capability could also include ‘Social Shopping’, where more than one VR user could go shopping together at the same time to the same (virtual) outlet

Monetization

Premium membership fees could be one such model where the Retailer provides virtualized personal concierge & shopping service, VIP product launch invitations, fashion shows, etc. to each of their customers

The Retailer could also commoditize the virtual real estate through product placement, promotion & merchandising akin to their physical footprint; thereby opening up an additional revenue stream from their vendors

2. Interactive Flyers & Catalogues

Case Scenario

Mundane promotional flyers, coupons & catalogues; when overlaid with an AR system could spring to life with Personalized Specials, Real-time Store Inventory, ‘Buy Now’ capability and much more

Monetization

Leveraging traditional promotional flyers albeit with an aim to create an instant sales conversion opportunity

3. Immersive Advertising

Case Scenario

Arguably one of the higher revenue generating line item for any Retailer who wishes to capitalize on their virtual foot traffic’s shopping behavior

Theoretically any Ad seen in traditional physical & web channels today could be translated over to VR/AR platforms; albeit with the added benefit of being interactive, immersive (360° videos) & personalized to the end user

Monetization

Treasure trove of data points from virtual foot traffic‘s buying behavior, shopping preferences, traffic & time patterns, basket analysis and more

Data scientists rejoice… VR/AR melds together data points from traditional Web & In-store channels

4. Augmentation within the Physical Store

Case Scenario

AR technology utilizing the ubiquitous smartphone could potentially enable the Retailer to further optimize their in-store customer experience & buying behavior

Customers could visualize themselves in certain accessories, makeup or clothes as well as receive tailored deals & discounts by just pointing their smartphone / AR equipment towards a particular product

Virtual in-store navigation is another one of the benefits that AR could bring to the physical format


Solution Consideration

As VR/AR technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, Retailers have a myriad of options to design a virtual solution as deemed suitable to their evolving business needs

1. Scalable Solution Integration

Perhaps more than any other factor, true success of VR would depend on a truly scalable platform that takes into account Equipment, Content and Backend system integration

Rather than standalone solutions, VR/AR’s success would primarily be determined by how well Retailers integrate this technology into their existing platforms such as omni-commerce, omni-sales, omni-support, finance & billing, vendor management, logistics, distribution and marketing

Retailers would need to consider the implications (benefits & constraints) of their VR/AR solutions on their existing assets and also the broader effect of it’s further iterations at some point in the future

2. Equipment & Content

Retailers could leverage their customer’s humble smartphone OR invest in Proprietary Solutions OR perhaps even leverage one of the many emerging Standalone Tethered options from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc. OR combination of the above OR develop an equipment agnostic experience

As smartphone manufacturers continue to broadly improve their display, camera quality(s) & processing power, basic VR experiences in theory should become more robust, affordable scalable solution for the masses

Dedicated Tethered experiences such as Microsoft’s Holo lens and Facebook’s Oculus Rift aims to bring premium VR experiences complete with ecosystem and partners

Retailers could initially adopt a step-up VR/AR strategy that relies on BYO smartphone + Subsidized VR equipment (a là NY Times/Google cardboard) to create a baseline solution… which they could then gradually ‘graduate’ to a more premium experience from tethered & proprietary systems as their situation & needs change

Regardless of the hardware(s) considered, User Experience, Benefits & Costs’ would be critical factors in mass adoption

To support the case scenarios presented above, Content investment would be equally critical at the VR/AR equation level and also the overall Retail Digital Strategy

The relatively cheap Google Cardboard with NY Times leverages most Android & iPhones to provide basic virtual reality News experience… this format could be replicated by the Retailers as an entry level solution to broadcast New Product News, VIP Events, Flash Sales, et al.

Facebook has recently put out 360° Videos for iPhones & Samsung Gear VR that conceptualizes the future of Ad formats and though in it’s early stages of testing; AT&T, Corona, Nescafe, Samsung, and Walt Disney World have taken part in the 360° video ads shown to users on the social network… This solution could be ported by the Retailers to provide a tour of new Concept Stores event before they open, Product Reviews, Commercials et al.

There is certainly more depth to the VR/AR solution than the brief outlook laid out here. One of the most exciting aspects of VR/AR is that Retailers truly have no limit to the associated experience, solutions & monetization models

But one thing is for sure, as this technology progresses, VR/AR solutions stands to boost Sales, enhance Customer Experience and Optimize Omni-Channel operations in conjunction with other Retail initiatives

So lets go virtual shopping for the real holidays!