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A Massive Transformation in Retail Using Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

There is a massive opportunity to use virtual reality (VR) in retail, and according to a 2021 survey:

  • 41% of shoppers are eager for greater personalization.
  • 32% want the option to customize products enabled by VR and were also eager to visualize and interact with product categories like apparel, shoes, and furniture before buying.
  • 71%  have never actually used VR or augmented reality features when shopping.

VR creates an immersive space where users can interact with digital worlds around them, meaning that you could have entire stores in VR, embed 3D versions of products in VR environments, empower buyers to customize the design before buying, and much more. Indeed, the opportunities in AR/VR retail will be worth $17.86 billion by 2028, according to a 2021 report by research firm Analytics Insights.

How Does VR in Retail Work?

Like most VR applications, VR in retail will operate through virtual reality headsets. Buyers can put on a headset to enter a three-dimensional virtual world, where they can engage in brand interactions that are not possible in the real world.

For instance, in VR, an AI-enabled digital human may walk the customer through an immersive storytelling experience describing the brand’s journey. They could also visualize and interact with a product before buying it – particularly true for heavy consumer goods like furniture or appliances. A customer could try to assemble a piece of furniture inside VR before trying it in real life.

To enable these apps, retail brands must create VR content and applications. Content like 3D videos, 3D product designs, and immersive audio clips, must first be created by the brand and then incorporated into a VR app that works with popular headsets like, for example, the Oculus Quest.

Brands must also consider the question of VR content distribution. Establishing a VR-enabled kiosk in physical retail stores is one option, which would allow store visitors to experience products in VR before making a purchase decision and increase the chances of purchases as well the value of products being bought. VR apps could also be launched on the app marketplace for select headsets.  Ideally, customers should be able to choose a product inside VR and directly initiate a purchase.

Virtual reality has the potential to transform retail in the following ways:

  • Shoppers can try on apparel without any physical contact: Purchasing apparel without trials could actually increase return and refund volumes, putting added pressure on the retailer’s logistics systems. Inside a VR environment, customers can pick and choose apparel from different stores, brands, and price points, and try them with ease.
  • Product customization can be finalized in VR: Customization is a major driving factor for customer satisfaction in retail, and in sectors like automobiles, product customization could make or break purchase decisions.
  • In-store VR can boost product sales: When customers visit the store, they can experience the brand in an entirely new way through VR. For example, a store operating out of a relatively small space can show off its entire product catalog via VR.
  • Employees can be trained in soft skills using VR: Retail success relies heavily on store employees’ skill sets. Retailers can play out real-world scenarios in a virtual reality environment so that employees know how to handle problematic customer situations and possible conflicts.

What Does the Future Look Like?

In the short term, VR offers important opportunities to retailers. According to Accenture’s Business Futures 2021 report, just a 1 percent increase in the use of AR/VR in retail could enable additional sales opportunities worth $66 billion.

In the long term, big companies, like Microsoft,  are working on a unified spatial internet platform called the Metaverse that could completely transform retail. Inside the Metaverse, you could have standalone VR stores, where customers can actually order the corresponding item from a real-world store near them.

The Metaverse could also open up new markets as customers from around the world can explore brands and their products without any geographic constraints.

What do you think about this transformation? Is it possible to grow that much in a short period of time? XR Technologies are going to permanently change how retail works. If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to be left out. Contact us to learn how to be part of this massive transformation.

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