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Transforming Consumer Engagement Using Virtual and Augmented Reality

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In this latest, exclusive article for WhichPLM, ITC Infotech discusses the hot topics of virtual reality and augmented reality, and how they will ‘fit in’ from a retail perspective. This instalment comes from Prashant Rao, Principal Consultant at ITC Infotech. 

In this digital age, every fashion brand needs to engage with consumers through all available digital mediums. Retailers are using social media, e-commerce, loyalty programs, and custom mailers, apart from the in-store Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices and gadgets, to actively reach out to the consumer and provide a rich yet personalised experience. Over time, the gap has been reduced for brands in establishing a digital footprint as the “me toos” have caught up with the fashion early birds.

In this overcrowded digital space, it is important for brands to stay relevant and still be seen and heard out loud amongst the masses. With in-store customer experience shifting to a more omni-channel spanning, virtual one, it has become a challenge for brands to provide the personal touch and connect with the customer for top-of-mind recall. This is where technology, in the form of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, can help.

Virtual Reality (VR) along with Augmented Reality (AR) is being touted as the next significant disruptor in technology, and giving the world the term Virtual commerce or “v-commerce”. Retailers are realising that both in-store marketing and digital mediums need to be working in tandem to provide a cohesive experience in the omni-channel. Technologies like Virtual and Augmented Reality help offer a more personal and interactive experience, which will change the way customers shop in the future. Definition wise, Virtual Reality is a technology which lets users interact in the real world and yet immersing them in a simulated virtual world, while Augmented Reality takes the experience to the next level by overlaying virtual elements on top of a real-time environment and allowing users to come as close to an experience as they can get. Pokemon Go is a brilliant example of capturing people’s imagination, augmented by its success of 75 million downloads in just 3 weeks.

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From a Retail standpoint, one needs to see how VR/AR fit in.

A typical drawback of online shopping is that customers miss the sensory perceptions associated with a touch and feel purchase and the sense of how a dress will fit, without physically being in a store, or how a piece of furniture will fit in their homes. This loss of interaction during the shopping experience leads to buying uncertainty, and abandoned carts amongst shoppers leading to a more dangerous impact – increased return rates. Retailers are now trying to harness VR/AR technology to encourage virtual but realistic trials, elevate customer service and create a differentiated personalized customer experience.

Many brands and retailers have taken the lead in successfully adopting VR/AR –

  • Apparel brands: Uniqlo’s Magic Mirror and Topshop’s VR dressing room offers a virtual dressing room for users to imagine themselves in a range of colour choices on a single silhouette without removing the garment using Kinect’s colour changing engine
  • Footwear brands: Converse has come up with a Shoe Sampler iPhone app which allows shoppers to virtually try any trainer by simply pointing the phone to their leg and selecting a shoe from the app catalogue to see it appear on their foot
  • Cosmetic giants: Sephora’s mobile app for applying virtual cosmetics; Shisedio’s Make-up Mirror is able to indicate the right shade of makeup by capturing images of the shopper and showing them how the make-up will look on their faces before committing to a purchase. Burberry’s Beauty Box provides a nail bar, where customers can select different nail polishes where AR can even display the polishes on the customers’ nails
  • Furniture and Home improvement retailers: Ikea and Lowe’s enable shoppers to visualize how certain pieces of furniture could look in their homes. Lowe’s “Holoroom Kiosks”allow shoppers to design their kitchens or bathrooms in the app and see if the selected appliances are fitting in the available space
  • Jewellery brands: De Beers and Forevermark are able to use AR to virtually try their collection and view how it would look based in different light and based on skin tones
  • There are brands which are working on providing an unforgettable experience, like Tommy Hilfiger, who allows shoppers to experience a live runway collection through VR sets, as if they were physically present. North Face enables shoppers to transport themselves into national parks or deserts using VR to get them excited about the outdoors.

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These examples showcase how brands are willing to use technology to provide a memorable experience as part of consumer engagement, providing ease and convenience in their pursuit of making a purchase decision.

Retailers are banking upon unique consumer engagement initiatives to strengthen brand loyalty and improve “stickiness”. A variety of strategies are getting employed to lead consumers to, and remain with, the brand:

  • Insight driven marketing – crunching customer data for effective target marketing
  • Self-service optimization – allowing customers to interact in the way they want
  • Data Management and Analytics – Analysing data for better understanding of preferences
  • Workforce effectiveness – providing tools and training to staff to elevate customer satisfaction
  • Process automation – streamlining business processes and automate for efficiency and cost minimization

Technology is at the forefront of these consumer engagement measures. VR and AR are able to give a virtual demonstration of how apparel will fit on oneself and help shoppers narrow down their choices from the available selection, increasing the chance of a successful sale.

VR/AR, with their ability to merge the real with the virtual, are able to bridge the gap from an in-store experience to standardizing the experience to omni-channel. Giving a customer the freedom to move beyond physical barriers will help them define their own set of interactions and, as a result, blurring the lines of segmented customer engagements. This allows for a fresh set of insights on preferences relating not only to best-selling features, but also on buying patterns, targeted communication, in-store experience as well as information around unmet needs. These insights to brands and retailers help them to design trend-right styles, their positioning within the store and promotions in the digital space.

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The retail industry is at the forefront of technology adoption when it comes to consumer engagement. With the advent of VR/AR, brands and retailers are using an innovative approach to offer consumers a unique experience.

Sources used:
http://www.platform28.com/10-ways-technology-increases-customer-engagement/
https://hbr.org/2016/09/virtual-and-augmented-reality-will-reshape-retail
https://www.cognizant.com/perspectives/virtual-and-augmented-reality-in-retail-the-store-is-open-part1
http://www.augment.com/augmented-reality-and-omnichannel-retail-strategy/
http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/augmented-reality-virtual-reality.asp
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601664/how-stores-will-use-augmented-reality-to-make-you-buy-more-stuff/
http://www.creativeguerrillamarketing.com/augmented-reality/10-examples-augmented-reality-retail/
https://www.retailigence.com/how-augmented-reality-is-shaping-the-future-of-retail/
http://www.highsnobiety.com/2016/07/25/augmented-reality-examples/
http://retail-innovation.com/category/augmented-reality/
http://www.getsavvy.com/vr/news/where-virtual-reality-fits-into-retail
Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.