How AR and VR Will Enhance the Retail Experience
Over the past couple decades, e-commerce has been crowned the biggest development in retailing and is considered the latest transformative milestone. What most retailers don’t know is there are two more enhancements on the rise: augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These two are expected to take over the retail chain and enhance the shopping experience altogether.
What is AR and VR?
AR has been around for decades, however, the use cases for AR are now exploding. AR is an enhanced, interactive version of a real-world environment achieved through digital visual elements, sounds and other sensory stimuli. AR is designed to add digital elements over real-world views with limited interaction. The popularity of Pokémon Go is one example that changed our perception of AR as we know it.
VR allows users to enter an isolated immersive and interactive world through headsets and, soon, VR glasses. VR is known as the enablement of technology behind the metaverse — the alternative reality that will create untold numbers of customizable experiences.
AR and VR are expected to redefine the shopping experience as we know it. Now, there are ways retailers can leverage these two technologies to get ahead of their competitors and enhance the shopping experience for their customers.
Retailers can reconstruct virtual stores in the metaverse by recreating a physical store in minute detail, using a 3D imaging device. Along with virtual browsing, 3D scanning allows retailers to stage demonstrations and live shows on VR devices. This feature gives customers a chance to have a complete shopping experience, anytime and anywhere.
Consumers are using AR from their smartphone cameras to try products before they buy them. One example of a retailer using AR is is the Sephora Virtual Artist. This smartphone app lets users try products through a scan of their face, get a virtual makeover and share the results with friends. This is all done by vision capturing, which is another form of AR. Another example, Ikea's AR app, allows consumers to virtually view new products in their home before committing to the purchase. Many other opportunities, much like Sephora’s Virtual Artist and Ikea's AR app, are out there that allow shoppers to examine and evaluate products before purchasing.
Another popular way retailers use 3D technology to enhance the shopping experience is through virtual fitting rooms. For example, SizeStream, maker of fitting room technology, is a mobile device in a fitting booth that captures customers’ body measurements, enabling the shopper to sample the fit of any number of clothing items in seconds. Digital scans, virtual fitting booths, color trials, 360-degree views and other 3D capabilities not only increase customer satisfaction, but also decrease the chance of costly returns, benefiting both the customer and the retailer.
There are many applications of AR and VR still being developed, but retailers don't have to wait to begin incorporating these new features into their business models. Capitalizing on these already developed enhancements now will not only allow retailers to reap the benefits such as higher customer satisfaction earlier, but also put themselves one step in front of their competitors, getting ahead of the curve before it begins.
David Chen is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, a manufacturer of 3D cameras.