Augmented and virtual realities are not new concepts, but the pandemic has caused their popularity to surge and their applications to become a necessary part of the new normal. Companies around the world are finding that a technologically-based approach can add value and ever more businesses are finding ways to incorporate AR & VR into their offerings.

The retail industry is ever-evolving, creating new customer experiences that are memorable and unique. Businesses are differentiating themselves through technological hybridisations to appeal to their consumers in innovative ways. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are set to completely transform the shopping experience and change the market in the same way the internet did.
An online article by The App Solution entitled ‘Augmented Reality Retail Applications & VR Store Solutions’ explains that customer immersion is a new engagement. By implementing immersive technologies, companies can enhance the customer experience at any offline store. Specifically, virtual reality allows the consumer to be deeply immersed in the retail shopping experience. It also enables retail commerce to deliver unrivalled levels of engagement with their target customers. Virtual reality and augmented reality can create a one-of-a-kind shopping experience at an offline store, transforming the location into a customer-friendly space.
In today’s times, both augmented reality and virtual reality are greatly impacting numerous industries and the retail and leisure industries are no exception. The latest innovations in augmented reality and virtual reality technology are changing the processes of designing, buying, selling and managing concepts and attractions across the globe.

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An article from Emily Safian-Demers, Editor at Wunderman Thompson entitled ‘Virtual Retail: Top 5’ highlights that the augmented reality market in retail, commerce and marketing is expected to surpass $12bn in 2025, according to February 2021 estimates from global tech market advisory firm ABI Research. Additionally, according to a Goldman Sachs report, AR/VR retail software revenue is expected to reach $1.6bn by 2025.
Brands around the world are bringing themselves up-to-date with new, sophisticated and immersive spaces, bringing virtual retail more into the mainstream than ever before.
Back in February, Machine-A and the Institute of Digital Fashion opened a virtual boutique. Launched to coincide with London Fashion Week, the space mixes digital content with augmented reality for an interactive and engaging shopping experience. Visitors are able to explore the Autumn/Winter 2021 collection, view unfinished pieces and read personal messages from the designers.

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Another store that launched in February was one by Tumi, as they unveiled its first virtual store. The 360-degree digital environment lets shoppers navigate the space, ask questions and interact with products as if they were in a physical store, enhanced with an AR function that places life-sized products renderings in shoppers’ homes. It also integrates social and gaming elements, with an in-store selfie display and accompanying Instagram and WeChat games. “We wanted to create an environment that is as close as possible to the actual physical store experience—and make it better,” Adam Hershman, Vice President of TUMI Asia Pacific and Middle East, told Retail in Asia.

Meanwhile late last year Charlotte Tilbury launched an online store that let shoppers browse through virtual rooms, guided by an avatar of Tilbury. Alongside products, the store integrated AR-powered makeup try-on and video tutorials.
Also late last year, American premium clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger reimagined the holiday shopping experience with virtual stores, complete with a street view to admire the holiday window displays and a whimsical in-store “snow room”.
It is not just in retail where AR & VR is making a mark; it is evolving within the leisure and entertainment sectors and an example of this is the latest location opening by Sandbox VR at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas in early summer 2021. Founded in 2016, Sandbox VR is an immersive experience offering players a combination of full-body motion capture and virtual reality. Players can become anyone and go anywhere, including journeying to a haunted pirate ship, fighting aliens in space or playing Esports. The pandemic resulted in Sandbox VR closing all of its locations and laying off the majority of its staff. Now, the company plans to operate 15 locations by the end of 2021.

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This ongoing digital transformation is finding its way into alternative aspects of people’s lives, and so digital technology is also increasingly finding its way into the cultural world and museum industry. The most straightforward examples of this consist of displays and interactive video walls, but it also includes the use of digital projectors, holography and VR technology.
Now, more than ever digital transformation will play a critical role for retailers. Implementation of AR & VR in retail helps retailers and consumers alike have a better shopping experience while reducing operating costs of retailers and offering an immersive, engaging and safe experience to consumers.
Augmented, experience-driven virtual stores are becoming destinations in their own right and now are even offering customers digital daydreams for a momentary escape, in the future this will only continue as the category evolves and grows.

A look at Tommy Hilfigers virtual reality experience.