VR and AR in Retail: Transform the Retail Experience


While many reports have focused on the difficulties faced by brick and mortar retailers, reality paints a different picture. The instore shopping experience is, in fact, still alive and well. It’s just had a makeover. Can the use of VR and AR in retail go even further towards transforming the retail experience?

According to a First Insight report, instore spending today exceeds online shopping by 17%. This could be down to a number of reasons. Most of us have indulged in a little retail therapy in our time or splurged on something that’s caught our eye. And it’s that element of impulse buying that retailers can take advantage of.

So how do you get instore shoppers to buy the things they didn’t know they wanted? In order to entice customers to visit your store in the first place and then wow them with what’s on display, companies must understand who their shoppers are and how they’re likely to navigate their way around the store.

Trend Watch: VR and AR in Retail

According to free data dashboard provider 9spokes, 82% of marketers claim that their business has a deep understanding of their customers, whereas only 23% of customers say the same. This huge discrepancy is worrying; how can you provide what your customers want if you don’t really know them, let alone ‘predict’ what they want before they know themselves? Customer-centric initiatives and creative strategies might be all the rage, but if retailers aren’t aware of industry trends, even the best efforts will prove ineffective.

Some of the current trends we are seeing include a renewed focus on fresh produce and the meal kit sections — last year, research found that 76% of consumers report they’re increasingly buying ready meals instead of cooking dinner, and many don’t make a dinner decision until an hour or two before the meal, earning UK supermarkets the name ‘walk-in fridges’. But what does this mean for retailers? How can they respond to these trends accordingly? Good business decisions are made when the right data is available, and with the instore experience being crucial for future retail success, quick access to this information is imperative. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology enables retailers to offer an evolved experience by focusing on shoppers and providing retailers with smart insights and immediate recommendations.

More than meets the eyeVR

How does lighting, store layout and flooring impact on the likelihood of a purchase? Where are shoppers looking and how do their eyes track as they scan a display? Do customers navigate all sections of the store with ease? Once upon a time, retailers would have been hard-pressed to find answers to these questions. But time-consuming and limiting shop-alongs, and intercepting customers mid-shop, are no longer necessary. Today, retailers can use VR to achieve both qualitative and quantitative data analysis by digitising a store in a virtual environment, and then running users through scenarios to test changes before retailers implement them.

The physical store is therefore just the tip of a very large iceberg. What shoppers get to experience, touch and feel is a direct result of the work retailers are doing beneath the surface to leverage customer insights through emerging technology. In a VR model, carefully placed spotlights can be added to make certain areas stand out. For instance, products such as fruit and vegetables can be arranged on a backlit display to draw customers’ attention to it. Data shows that well-lit displays have 30% higher traffic than those without lighting. Having this knowledge and data gives brick and mortar stores a competitive advantage and elevates high-margin or high-volume items, translating to higher volume in traffic and sales when the changes are applied.

It’s all going to plan – AR

Retailers spend a lot of time and budget making sure their store is visually appealing to customers. However, if the products are not in the optimal position, or worse, not actually available, not even the most beautiful store window will be able to drive growth and revenue. To avoid situations like this, retailers can move away from the traditional model of reviewing inventory stock levels and focus on tangible, real-time compliance by using AR technology.

Blending the physical with the digital, image recognition technology identifies products on the shelf and compares them to the planogram for the particular space. The technology then guides the user, bouncing the shelf reality against the original plans to make sure that the product is available, the right promotional activity is applied to it, the price is audited and correct and the product placement or position is accurate. As this is happening ‘in the moment’, misplaced items can be put back to the right shelf and any out of stock merchandise can be reported back to the system for ordering.

Anticipating the future

Retailers today need to be on top of their (virtual) game more than ever. The shopping landscape and customer behaviours have changed, and stores must be agile enough to keep changing with it. To increase shopper satisfaction, retailers need to be able to anticipate what customers could want and create an instore experience that is driving them to purchase. Technologies such as VR and AR remove the guesswork and speed up the process of store remodelling, and facilitate the instore discovery of the things customers never knew they wanted, with no crystal ball needed.

Credit: Vishal Kirpalani, VP Product Design & Experience, Symphony RetailAI.