VR AR in building retail experiences - Connected Corners

5 ways VR & AR enables rich retail experiences

This topic explores some of the ways VR/AR technologies are enabling rich retail experiences as well as highlights some of the key differences between these two virtualization platforms

This topic explores some of the ways VR & AR technologies are enabling rich retail experiences as well as highlights some of the key differences between these two virtualization platforms

Quick Note: Despite some similarities inherent to the broader retail industry; each value chain player is unique based on a multitude of factors (retailer type, size, product category, operational & technological capabilities, partnerships, et al.) and as such would have distinct requirements of VR/AR platforms & correlating solutions

VR/AR enabling rich retail experiences

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies have come a long way since their inception; improving not only in their technological prowess but also seeing a wide array of applications across a myriad of industries…

…with the retail industry in particular being amongst the keenest adopters of the virtual technologies in developing a range of unique and rich retail experiences for their shoppers & customers

Already, many retailers are realizing the benefits of VR & AR tech in creating an immersive, contextual and even personalized experiences as an extension of their existing physicaldigital channels across the consumer’s shopping journey

VR/AR technologies could help bring a physical in-store shopping experience anywhere and at anytime; complete with virtual aisles, customer support & service, shopping cart and even product interactions (sans taste & smell for now)

Additionally, VR/AR technologies can also enable retailers to build rich retail experience initiatives tailored to consumers within the assisted-living segment (e.g limited mobility, aged care, et al.)

Exploring 5 VR/AR enabled retail experiences

Traditional retailers & startups alike were already hard at work developing a range of virtualized retail experience solutions; with the ongoing pandemic only accelerating these efforts in recent times

There are a multitude of scenarios where VR/AR tech can help enrich retail experiences; some complementing existing physical & online solutions, some as replacements whilst others innovated from the ground up to perhaps provide a first-to-market competitive advantage; here are 5 such examples

VR AR retail experiences use case scenarios - Connected Corners

1. Virtual aisles (v-Commerce channel)

VR & AR solutions that enable shoppers to either

  • Walk through the aisles of their favorite department store, interact with staff for recommendations, shop for products and even take part in a doorbuster sales event… all in a fully virtualized environment and from the comfort of their couch
  • Interact with virtual 3D products (e.g. furniture) within their real surrounding environment to get a better feel for it compared to just websites

Akin to a video game with in-game purchase; VR & AR tech in effect could help convert shoppers’ virtual interactions into real commerce activity (think: interactive & immersive vCommerce)

Furthermore, this capability could also extended to social shopping events, where more than one VR user within the same/compatible ecosystem could shop together at the same time at the same virtual retail outlet

2. Interactive flyers, catalogues & Ads

Mundane printed & online promotional flyers, coupons and sales catalogues for select product categories (e.g. furniture, clothing) could benefit from a VR & AR tech makeover…

…allowing them to instantly spring to life with immersive product interactions, instant virtual fittings, augmented trials and maybe even a personalized virtual concierge service

…that not only aims to shorten the time between promotional material views to correlating purchases (read: instant sales conversion opportunity) but also reduce the potential for product returns (& costs associated with them)

IKEA’s Place AR solution is one such example where smartphones & tablet users can augment their products from their promotional catalogue into their real home environment to better envision how they appear; including dimensions, color, et al.

Similarly; the traditional video advertising formats seen on TV & web medium could be overlaid with VR/AR tech that makes them immersive, interactive and even tailored to the end user

Virtual Ads could also become an important revenue generator; particularly for retailers wanting to capitalize on their virtual real estate & shopper behavior amongst others

3. In-store product experience & information

When shopping in store; consumers can simply point their AR enabled smartphones at a particular product or a smart signage to gain access to real-time customized deals, discount coupons, recommendations (based on what’s already in the basket for example), bundled / mix-n-match pricing offers (save when you add tiramisu to your pasta sauce order perhaps?) and more

Some stores may also have dedicated VR booths in-store to help customers visualize various aspects of their customized products (say a vehicle / kitchen remodel) in a completely virtualized environment

4. Smart fittings, trials & personalization

The ongoing pandemic is contributing to a growing demand in contactless retail solutions and VR/AR integrated IoT solutions such as smart mirrors & walls, personalized signage, virtual fitting rooms and even the user’s smartphones could not only enable retailers to address this trend but also enhance their shopper’s in-store experience in the process

For example, shoppers could visualize themselves in certain accessories, makeup or clothes in a dedicated/virtual fitting room or perhaps even use their AR enabled smartphones to personalize & visualize their next pair of sneakers… the possibilities are endless!

Brands could also make available similar VR/AR experiences to consumers outside of their store on compatible devices and via their dedicated Apps or even social media with the underlying concept being the same – i.e. virtually customize, visualize, interact & purchase

NIKE for example; makes available their AR tech on smartphone Apps & in-stores to enable users to seamlessly measure (& store) their individual foot sizes more accurately than just guessing; thereby removing another purchase friction point in the shopper’s retail journey

5. In-store navigation & support services

Retailers could leverage AR to enable in-store navigation and support services (think: virtual assistant) directly on their App to make shopper’s path to purchase that much more simpler…

…and when coupled with other aforementioned AR features such as product discovery as well as connected technologies such as IoT, beacons, mobile payment & checkout solutions could provide consumers with a truly frictionless shopping experience should they choose

VR vs. AR – Similar yet different

Virtualization of objects and/or experiences is where the broad similarities between VR & AR technologies end and many of the differences begin; particularly the manner in which those virtual experiences are developed, implemented & delivered

There are several differences between VR & AR technologies; some of those having significant impact on the development of relevant retail experiences as well as correlating consumer adoption rates

1. Virtual Experience

Broadly speaking; with VR the user is ‘teleported’  into a fully virtualized environment wherein all of their interactions provide a sense of realism within a fabricated environment…whereas; with AR users have the ability to interact with virtual objects within the real environment around them

Both VR & AR technologies are equally capable of delivering rich shopper experiences although the key question brands need to ask is which one fairs better under what circumstance?

Owing to the relatively complex equipment needed, fully immersive VR-based solution would ideally suit applications where users are stationary (think: virtually customizing & exploring full features of a new car in a dedicated VR booth)

…whereas AR-enabled smartphone solutions would also suit applications where the users may be in a state of constant motion (think: easier to interact with products whilst walking the supermarket aisle)

2. Equipment requirements

Typically, VR experiences require a dedicated headset capable of creating the virtual environment for the users; which may be tethered – reliant on a dedicated smartphone/computer for processing power – or an untethered standalone device (onboard or edge/cloud computing potential) and everything else in between

On the other hand… aside from niche enterprise grade mixed reality (MR) applications; many consumer grade AR experiences could be developed to work on nothing more than just an existing smartphone or tablet which; are already quite ubiquitous

Most modern smartphones & tablets already boast some level of AR capability out of the box; technically making AR the more accessible technology of the two

VR/AR equipment requirements may arguably be one of the most important considerations for brands in developing related retail experiences as it would also have a significant impact on associated costs, adoption & engagement rates, CX and potentially even revenue

VR vs. AR differences could matter

Akin to any other business service/solution; brands would have to invest some degree of capital & resources into developing, implementing, promoting, maintaining and continuously improving their VR/AR platforms as well

But not all brands may have the necessary capital, resources and/or even bandwidth to develop & maintain two complementing virtual ecosystems… and even if they did… there is the question of what the correlating solutions’ adoption & engagement rates would look like in the mid-long term (read: solution viability)

In this case, these key differences (& other inherent traits) could serve as an initial guidance for brands to further analyze, research & develop the apt virtual ecosystem that optimally balances shopper engagement & CX with ROI goals


In conjunction with NGN/5G connectivity protocols & suite of connected IoT solutions; the broader retail industry has been exploring, developing & implementing range of VR & AR experiences

For capital conscious retailers; the aforementioned differences between VR & AR (& other inherent characteristics) could also become a key determining factor in the choosing the apt virtual ecosystem to build out their retail experience solutions with

There is certainly more depth to the VR/AR ecosystem than the brief outlook laid out here as these virtualization technologies continue to evolve and enable brands to design unique retail experiences and monetization models

For example; the data points from shopper’s virtual shopping preferences, interactions, basket analyses and more could be amalgamated with data points from their traditional (physical/web) channels to create hyper-personalized omni-channel CX programs

Forthcoming topics will aim to explore some of these potential monetization models as well as take a look at some of the key considerations in building out VR/AR based retail experiences

Stay tuned!