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AR & VR – Part One

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are not new concepts in the modern world, however the applications of these platforms in the realm of retail has seen an evolution in recent times and offers new and unique possibilities for retailers to interact with customers and to market their products. The first part of our look into AR & VR will offer an overview on these ideas and what they can bring to the industry.

The idea of Augmented Reality can be defined as interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content. This experience is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world in such a way that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, AR alters one’s ongoing perception of a real-world environment.

As for Virtual Reality, this completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one and can be defined as a simulated experience that employs pose tracking 3D near-eye displays to give the user an immersive feel of a virtual world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (particularly video games), education (such as medical or military training) and business (such as virtual meetings).

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According to Oleg Boiko of WE/AR Studio in his article ‘The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Reality (VR) in Retail’, VR in shopping is often associated with other technology that allows customers to interact with the product virtually – augmented reality or AR. Both follow the same goal and use similar technology to make the shopping experience more comfortable for customers. However, they have differences.

Mainly, AR lets shoppers see the real world with the imposed digital elements, while a VR shopping experience transfers them to virtual settings. For instance, shops with AR technology can let you interact with items without actually trying them on. You see the dress you like but doubt whether it will fit in with your favourite jeans or the jacket you rarely take off? AR technology will allow you to see how the items will look together as if you went to the store and tried everything together.

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AR & VR in Retail

On the other hand, VR completely transforms reality rather than enhancing it. For example, you would like to visit a new shop but cannot travel there right now; a virtual reality tour will let you see everything just as if you were there physically. With VR technology in retail, you can visit New York Fashion Week while still sitting on the couch in the comfort of your home.

Jennifer Gregory, in her article ‘What is AR and VR Shopping? How Retailers Can Jump on This Trend?’ explains that with the shift to omni-channel, many businesses are creating digital experiences that feel closer to stepping into a store, as well as upleveling their in-store experiences with digital elements.

The motto of the retail industry is to provide the best experience to its customers. The implementation of augmented reality is an innovative tool that is transforming the retail industry by providing a new digital experience to its customers.

The Augmented Reality market is worth $38.56bn and it has caught on with retailers seeking to enhance business, customer base and revenues. This is the viewpoint of Amit Manchanda from Net Solutions in his article ‘Augmented Reality in Retail: How is AR Revolutionising the Retail Industry’.

He goes onto say that just a few years ago, AR was just a pie-in-the-sky idea but today it is a leading technological trend with a CAGR of 40.9 per cent from 2022 to 2030. AR is everywhere in healthcare, gaming, entertainment, digital marketing, education and retail. Leading retail brands are using it to drive customer engagement, increase revenue and improve brand awareness. Also, over 32 per cent of shoppers are regular users of AR and 73 per cent of smartphone AR users say they are highly content with the experience.

Manchanda continues by saying that immersive shopping experiences ensure customers keep buying from you. Retailers understand this completely and leverage the power of AR to offer shopping experiences that educate and spark curiosity.

Just like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality has the potential to transform traditional retail and the most useful function of VR in retail is the ability to make the connection between customers and brands stronger than ever.
An article by XR Today entitled ‘How is VR Transforming Retail?’ argues that there is a massive opportunity to use VR in retail and that furthermore, shoppers are eager for greater personalisation.

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The article goes onto say that 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 visualise 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 of their own. 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 the Oculus Quest or HTC VIVE.

David Chen, Co-Founder and Director of Engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International in his insight piece ‘How AR and VR Will Enhance the Retail Experience’ explains that 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.

He goes onto say that 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. Capitalising 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.

Part Two of our Special Feature on AR & VR will be included in the May edition of RLI and in it we will be highlighting a number of examples that portray the use of these platforms across the retail industry.