Retail shopping has always been a cornerstone of the economy, but with the rise of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores have had to work hard to compete. Technology like virtual reality (VR) offers exciting new opportunities for retailers to engage customers and drive sales.
This article explores some promising uses for virtual reality in retail and how shop owners can use it to enhance store experience.
What are the uses of virtual reality in the retail sector?
VR allows customers to use virtual fitting rooms to try out products and place orders from anywhere that has an internet connection. While store visitors enjoy interactive, immersive shopping, retailers get more granular data and increased merchandising flexibility.
1. Virtual Fitting Rooms
One of the most popular applications for virtual reality in retail is the virtual fitting room. With the help of a headset, potential customers can browse a shop’s range from home. The virtual world is a step up from regular online shopping, allowing users to try on clothes and see how they look before buying.
Virtual fitting rooms reduce costs associated with returns and exchanges since customers know what size and style look best before making a purchase. The tech is still in progress, but returns will continue to reduce as the software improves.
2. VR-Enabled Shopping Carts
When customers visit a virtual store, it’s great to test out products. But retailers can improve user experience by offering virtual shopping carts.
Whether the shop sells clothing, shoes, or grocery items, the entire shopping experience is seamless if they can purchase in the virtual store.
Virtual reality makes checkouts easier for both customers and store owners. Customers no longer must wait in line at the checkout counter. This speeds up the process significantly and eliminates human errors associated with manual calculations.
Additionally, store owners save money on labor costs since fewer staff members are needed. In-store theft will no longer exist, reducing shrinkage costs and security staff expenses.
3. Immersive Experiences
Virtual reality can create immersive retail experiences for customers. There is enormous potential for luxury items to leverage all that VR offers. Not everyone feels comfortable visiting a high-end seller, and others may have to travel a long way to get there. Imagine testing a brand new Maserati or slipping on a Rolex without selling pressure. For some customers, this will be a game-changer.
Immersive experiences are super-helpful for explaining how complex products work. VR demonstrations allow shoppers to get up close and personal with a product before buying it.
Check out the below video to get an idea of how much information shoppers will have at their fingertips.
4. Interactive advertising and displays
Retailers can create interactive ads and displays in virtual stores far superior to real-world marketing. Customers can participate in fun activities like scavenger hunts or puzzles while learning about new products and getting insights into promotions or discounts.
Store owners can also gamify the shopping process, giving the shopper rewards for specific tasks. This helps keep shoppers engaged and provides valuable information about the retailer’s products or services, increasing brand awareness and helping drive sales in-store.
5. Improved granular data
Collecting data about customers’ shopping habits, preferences, and behavior is challenging for shop owners. For example, understanding where customers are looking on the shelf and what they read on a product label are often unknown. Virtual reality has the potential to provide a lot more information, although privacy concerns must be addressed.
6. Flexible merchandising
Retailers will have superior merchandising capabilities with their virtual displays. Making display changes in franchises with over a thousand stores is a considerable time and cost investment. But making changes and tweaks in a virtual world is much easier!
Visual merchandisers can experiment with different product placements, and buyers can test out new brands without the same levels of risk attached.
7. Product demos
When you visit many technical stores, the sales staff often have as much idea as you do about how their products work. Imagine virtually shopping at a camera store and getting a high-level demonstration of an exciting product. At the same time, you’re holding the same product and can follow along with the tutorial. The best part is there’s no waiting to get a store person’s attention – it’s on-demand information.
8. Personalized shopping experiences
Shop owners can customize each visitor’s shopping experience according to their preferences and past shopping behavior. Creating highly personalized recommendations based on what they already know about each shopper makes for an enjoyable shopping experience.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality is an immersive technology that typically uses a headset to create a virtual environment. It’s suitable for entertainment purposes, such as playing video games or watching movies, or for more practical applications like medicine and education.
In retail, VR can bring shoppers into real-life experiences without being there. Customers can explore a store from home, but that’s just the beginning. The opportunities for retailers to drive sales through innovative tech are only limited by the imagination.
Benefits of virtual reality in retail
- Improved shopping experience: Customers get an immersive experience that offers deeper product knowledge.
- Cost savings: Although there is an initial investment to setup VR, operating expenses will reduce over time. Costs associated with traditional brick-and-mortar stores, such as rent payments, staffing costs, security, and utilities, will decrease.
- Responsive offerings: Updating virtual stores with new products and store displays is much quicker than physical stores. Staying abreast with trends and seasonal ranges will provide visitors with a better shopping experience.
- Increased Sales: Offering slick, highly targeted sales campaigns should help drive sales revenue.
- Accessibility friendly: Buying products virtually allows the shopper to browse safely, away from other sick shoppers and crowds. Virtual retailers will be a welcome relief for anxiety sufferers and others with mental illnesses that make regular shopping unpleasant. Frail elderly and others that can’t get to a store may also appreciate virtual reality.
Disadvantages of VR
There are some potential drawbacks of using VR in retail that shop owners should consider before jumping on board.
- Cost: Setting up a virtual reality system can be expensive, especially for those merchants with substantial product ranges. This cost can be prohibitive for smaller retailers who may not have the resources or budget to invest.
- Technical Issues: Any new technology can be confusing for new users. Other factors like slow internet will likely result in lost sales and customers who may not return to the store.
- Privacy Concerns: Data collected from customer visits is stored digitally and could be used for marketing purposes or sold by third parties without the customer’s knowledge or consent. Customers may also be unaware that their movements are being tracked, which raises privacy concerns.
- User discomfort: Spending too long wearing a headset can result in motion sickness, which no one enjoys. Prolonged use can also cause eye strain and headaches due to intense focus.
- Human disconnect: While VR will provide a bounty of information, it won’t replace the benefits of human connection in its current form. A shopkeeper or store employee who provides practical help and empathy or makes a connection while talking to a shop visitor in-store is more likely to get a loyal customer over the long term.
What retail brands are using VR and AR?
The use cases for VR in the shopping industry are mainly focused on trying out products before buying and gamifying branding experiences.
IKEA developed the IKEA Place app, allowing users to search for products with their camera and add products to their room at home to see how it looks.
WP has a handy app that lets you try on glasses to see how they look and if they’re the right shape and color for your face.
Nike joined the Metaverse by creating Nikeland, a collaboration with Roblox which encouraged people to get active in a virtual world.
FC built an Infinite Virtual Closet with clothing and jewelry that can be tried on virtually.
Toms setup VR in many of their stores to allow customers to be transported to Peru using VR to see the local supply chain up close.
Adidas provide a free app that allows users to try on shoes and see how they look before making a purchase.
Gucci watch virtual fashion shows, personalize products, play games, and explore their range.
Find out more about how the fashion industry is using virtual reality here.
Uses for augmented reality in retail
While VR focuses on at-home shopping, augmented reality (AR) will enhance the shopper’s experience within the store. With a mobile device, customers can get helpful product information, brand stories, current sales, nutrition information, and more. To the user, it appears that the data is displayed in real life.
AR glasses let shop visitors consume content without needing a mobile phone. With this hardware, shopping carts can scan products as they enter the cart.
The customer could then get a running tally on how much it’ll cost, along with a breakdown of nutritional information. They could select a diet type and get feedback on their food choices.
There is no shortage of benefits associated with incorporating virtual reality into a retail business. Customers get an improved shopping experience with tailored offerings based on customer behavior. Retailers can offer better customer experiences that set them apart from the competition.
Unsurprisingly, businesses are now turning towards this technology to enhance their customer engagement strategy. Big brands are already testing VR strategies, allocating budget to ground-breaking trials.
VR isn’t ready to replace the conventional shopfront yet. Headset adoption by users is still low, and there are issues like display lag to overcome before it goes mainstream. But savvy retailers should consider prepping for a shift; they can already take advantage of early adopters in this space. Gearing up to offer VR shopping will put the store owner in the front seat as more people take up this exciting tech.