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Published June 6, 2018

The retail industry has progressed considerably since its inception. Right from the barter system in medieval times to the structured shopping outlets in the late 1800s, the retail sector has made significant strides. With newer retail formats entering the market,  consumers now have more and more options to choose from. Their preferences are also becoming more prominent and definitive, as they show a greater inclination towards convenience, personalization and simplified transactions. This is highlighted by the swift rise of e-commerce, offering customers the ease of shopping without having to step into a store at all.

However, online shopping also has certain limitations. Although shopping online is convenient and smooth, it does not allow buyers to touch and feel the product before they purchase it. This is where immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) comes into the picture.

Not just e-commerce websites, offline retailers too, are experimenting with it to provide an improved shopping experience to customers. Many brick & mortar stores have already started using this new, progressive technology in the retail space.

AR in shopping:

Let’s begin by understanding how you can apply augmented technology in a shopping scenario. There are a few AR shopping apps that allow users to look at products using the camera on their phones. The products appear as if they were in front of the users. This helps buyers understand what the product will look like in their home or office space. It works perfectly for furniture, electronics and large household appliances, whose proportions buyers need to take into consideration before making a purchase. This is why furniture retailers like Ikea, Lowe’s, Pottery Barn and Amazon have begun using AR in their shopping apps.

However, there may be challenges in implementing this technology. Currently, some iOS and Android models are equipped to run these apps. However, if retailers want to provide this unique experience to all their customers, then they need to develop and roll out apps that most smartphones can support. Also, this experience may not be beneficial for all types of products. For example, let’s consider the apparel category. Via AR apps, people may be able to look at the clothes better; however, they still can’t feel the fabric or gauge the fit.

VR in shopping:

On the other hand, virtual reality creates a simulated environment for the customer. This technology transports the customer into a reality entirely different from his/her own. So, it has the capability of giving buyers the look and feel of using a product, without doing so in reality. German automobile manufacturer Audi launched a VR experience at dealerships in Germany, Spain, and the UK last year for customer consultation. It had VR headsets installed, using which people could enjoy a realistic experience in their configured vehicle, with every last detail. This immersive technology was integrated into Audi’s IT systems as part of its digital innovation initiative.

As VR headsets and equipment get cheaper, many retailers may consider providing this type of experience to their buyers, in the bid to provide the best shopping experience to their customers.

The verdict

In conclusion, augmented reality and virtual reality are gaining popularity rapidly, and more and more retailers are touted to use this revolutionary technology to delight buyers. Retailers may also use AR/VR just to ensure they don’t stay behind their competition.

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