In “5 Retail Trends in 2016”, Larry Alton of TECH.CO tells us that technology in the retail space is happening at an impressively swift rate. It highly effects all aspects of the purchase path and projects involving the customization of our cutting-edge P-O-P displays.
This year, we’re reading more and more about the effects of virtual and augmented reality on the retail industry. According to NRF News, it aims to transform the retail space before it’s even built.
The difference between the two? Augment.com clarifies the difference of the tremendous growth phenomenon in this description:
Augmented reality and virtual reality are inverse reflections of one in another with what each technology seeks to accomplish and deliver for the user. Virtual reality offers a digital recreation of a real life setting, while augmented reality delivers virtual elements as an overlay to the real world.
In the following study, NRF News Contributor Sandy Smith breaks down the benefits to virtual and augmented reality and how it will be used to build successful store design down to displays and signage.
VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY TECHNOLOGY
Every inch of retail shelf space is precious, so when organic children’s food manufacturer Happy Family wanted to reimagine the aisle, the stakes were high.
“We looked at how people shop this section,” says Riddhish Kankariya, Happy Family’s vice president of strategy and insights. “Do they shop based on brand, on organic versus non-organic, on type of food or on age?”
To answer those questions, Happy Family turned to virtual reality, creating four different scenarios to gather data from 800 shoppers. “There is no way, if we had not done this virtually, that we’d have been able to get these numbers,” Kankariya says.
While it may seem that Happy Family reached into the future, virtual and augmented reality are already transforming retail from store design to signage.
“It’s definitely one of the hottest technologies right now,” says David Evans, commercial director of Kantar Retail Virtual Reality. “It’s hot in the marketplace, but it’s not a fad. VR has been around for a long time, so it’s had time to mature. … It’s going to influence our lives at work, at home and at play.”
“Retailers need to look at virtual reality not as some addition, but as how the web is going to evolve,” says Mary Spio, founder and president of CEEK VR. “When we first started working with brands to do online video, we were at Web 1.0 — just text, pictures. The brands that embraced video early were able to attract the wide user base. That’s the same way that retailers can and should look at virtual reality.”
In some ways, the world has been waiting for hardware to catch up — and a number of major manufacturers are set to release virtual reality devices this year. As that happens, customers may expect virtual and augmented reality when shopping online.
“The next step will be to move to v-commerce, which will become a part of the omnichannel strategy,” says Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions, which focuses on shopper insights via virtual reality. “‘Can I jump in and look at the ingredients or parts of the product? Can I actually put it on and see what it looks like in a different scenario?’
“It will help with some of the shortfalls in e-commerce,” Hardy says, “upselling, cross-selling and providing a more engaging and individualized experience.”
THE STORE OF THE FUTURE
Happy Family’s research is just the beginning of how companies use — and plan to use — virtual reality. Working with InContext, Kankariya sees more possibilities. “When we showed the virtual technology to our CEO and founder, her first thought was, ‘There are so many ways we can use this to test packaging or design. So many ways of engaging with our audience,’” he says. “Instead of having to guess, we can have numbers and data behind it.”
“At the macro level,” Hardy says, “it starts with the store design, the flow, the adjacencies, and extends all the way down to the micro level, product, category, displays and signage.”
Both Hardy and Evans have seen tremendous benefits for clients who think in the virtual world.
“There are two levels for retailers who want to create a new store,” Hardy says. “They can take their current footprint and play around with it, to reinvent the experience in their current stores. Or they can create an entire new footprint of a building.”
There are reasons to do so virtually. “If you create it in a physical world, all your competition knows what you’re doing before you understand the impact of the strategy,” Hardy says.
And without having to build fixtures or stock a single product, retailers can allow “customers” to “shop” a virtual store while measuring their behavior and what, how and why they buy.
Beyond that, “Virtual work means they can move faster,” Evans says. “They can spend time applying valuable thinking rather than wasting time on physical build activities. It means retailers get to market faster, with the benefit of being able to consider more options and avoid costly mistakes.”
The technology can also supplement a salesforce: CEEK helped Berkshire Hathaway’s Richline Group create a virtual reality experience for its line of wearable technology, aimed at store buyers.
“The units were quite expensive and not widely available,” Spio says. “Through virtual reality, we were able to have the retailers sample the goods so that they can …see what it looks like before it ships to the stores. We have a number of retailers using it to train their staff, too.”
Augmented reality “is adding a layer of the virtual realm to your reality, immediately delivering an enhanced experience that provides unprecedented value,” says Yoni Nevo, CEO of augmented reality visualization platform Cimagine.
“It can give the consumer contextual information, showing products before purchase, and in doing so, enabling the consumer to have confidence to make a more informed decision to buy faster. …The ability to add the virtual layer to a user’s reality simply provides significant value to brands, retailers and manufacturers.”
Lowe’s worked with virtual and augmented reality firm Marxent Labs to develop a system to help customers virtually design kitchens and baths.
This is allowing retailers to see which products consumers want on the shelves before they even come in.
TAKING IT TO THE CUSTOMER
While most applications to date have been with back-end systems, there are early steps in taking virtual reality to the customer. Lowe’s worked with virtual and augmented reality firm Marxent Labs to develop a system to help customers virtually design kitchens and baths.
“Every single client comes to us with a slightly different use case but they all share one thing in common: The need to help customers visualize purchases in custom context,” says Beck Besecker, CEO of Marxent.
“In terms of bricks-and-mortar retail, the primary question being asked is, ‘Can we do more with less space and make it a dynamic experience?’”
An added benefit is getting “closer to the consumer earlier in the sales funnel,” he says. “People can start either in a store or at home when their interests and intent are just beginning. An at-home, guided design experience is a good way for curious shoppers to start visualizing their ideas before they are ready to buy.”
Retailers can “deliver that in-store experience to a user right at home to compel them to buy directly from online or walk into your store,” Spio says. “You’re placing them inside the store, inside the experience.”
CEEK recently added a virtual reality component to the new Megadeth “Dystopia” CD. The album, sold exclusively through Best Buy, included a VR headset along with access to an app that essentially put the user on stage with the band. Megadeth claims to be the first band to have a website (in 1994), so breaking ground is nothing new, but it may have helped push the album to No. 3 on the Billboard charts (behind Adele and Justin Bieber). “Dystopia” eventually made its way to the top of the Billboard Hard Rock charts.
“The appetite for virtual reality is very high,” Spio says. “People will say, ‘How many people have headsets?’ We had purchasers who didn’t know what virtual reality was. They just knew they had the ability to be onstage with their favorite band.”
U.K. retailer John Lewis uses Cimagine for an “endless showroom,” a virtual corner where shoppers can browse from the thousands of products available online.
“This is really aimed at selling more,” Nevo says. “You’re able to see all the varieties, the colors and the fabric — and everything is in stock virtually all the time.”
Not everything is successful: Marxent tested augmented and virtual reality with catalogs but “E-commerce is a much better use,” Besecker says. The process of 3D modeling “is still somewhat manual and can be time-consuming. Establishing a workflow that can generate 3D models rapidly and at a high quality will help online retailers take full advantage of virtual reality. The novelty and usefulness of VR has the potential to be a great driver of foot traffic and a point of differentiation.”
With failed tests come questions like, “What if a retailer commits to a device that becomes the virtual Betamax in a VHS world?”
“Companies hold off on AR and VR because they are overwhelmed by emerging hardware options and are unsure how to invest in a way that will have a long-term payoff,” Besecker says. “There are a lot of different devices to choose from right now … Even smartphones and iPads can be used for AR and VR experiences. Some of these will stick around, some will fall by the wayside — and all of them will evolve over the next three to five years.”
NO TIME TO WASTE
In many ways, the future of virtual reality retail is here. “This is the year that retailers and marketers will see virtual reality is not a ‘nice to have,’” Spio says. “It’s not something you should wait for.”
“If I were to make a generalization, in a few years, AR could be incorporated into nearly every physical experience,” Nevo says. “Everything is going to be faster and easier. For instance, at Cimagine we have already developed the ability to incorporate the technology of AR with the ability to create 3D content, saving significant amounts of time and money for our clients.”
Evans sees virtual reality in use around the globe: The technology is making its way to Asia, focused heavily on gathering data about how shoppers respond in stores.
That is an area where Evans anticipates all of virtual and augmented reality will grow in 2016. “For many retailers, it is a question of incorporating data and insights into the virtual world. Retailers today have a lot of data. It’s, ‘Help me make the decisions in the virtual world overlaid with data,’” he says.
“Data visualization will no doubt be a big topic of development this year. ‘Let me see the performance in the virtual store based on my real sales data.’ [That is] when the technology becomes even more valuable.”
AR OR VR?
Augmented reality and virtual reality are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are key differences.
Augmented reality blends virtual and real life, leaving the user in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual elements.
For instance, according to Retailiegnce – Retailers, by combining augmented reality with localized SEO, are using this technology to reach consumers that, previously, were beyond their grasp.
For example, if a pedestrian in an unfamiliar area realizes they need a pair of shoes urgently, they can use an augmented reality app on their phone to not only point them to nearby shoe stores, but browse the stock of those stores before heading to them.
This makes it easy for the customer to know exactly where they should go for the product they want and keeps businesses from dealing with customers who are a poor match, such as a person looking for running shoes that wanders into a dress shoe store.
Augmented reality makes it easy for retailers to be matched up with relevant customers. Customers know how to localize businesses that are relevant to them, what businesses have to offer, and read up on other consumers’ product reviews, all without looking further than their cell phones.
In store, For example, Lego recently introduced a series of kiosks that, when a shopper would hold up a box, would display the completed model as if it were in their hands.
Virtual reality is the creation of a virtual world, often leaving users unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Virtual reality typically requires a device such as a helmet or goggles.
“Augmented reality and virtual reality are very similar,” says Beck Besecker, CEO of virtual and augmented reality firm Marxent. “We call them sister technologies, in that both use 3D models to generate immersive experiences and there are underlying similarities to how they work. The biggest difference is that AR projects 3D content into the user’s context or ‘real’ space and VR places a customer or user into a wholly created environment.”
VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSETS
A slew of virtual reality headsets are set for delivery in 2016, with some experts anticipating 200 million devices will be shipped this year. A look at some of the major products due out:
- Oculus Rift, owned by Facebook
- HTC Vive, from smartphone maker HTC
- PlayStation VR, which integrates with the gaming system PlayStation 4
- Google Cardboard, which integrates with iPhone and Android smartphones
- Samsung Gear VR, which integrates with certain Samsung smartphones
At press time, Oculus Rift starts at $600, while Vive starts at $800; PlayStation VR is expected to cost about the same as a new gaming console. Google Cardboard ranges from $15-$120; Samsung Gear VR starts at $100.
Tell us about your experience using VR or AR in the comments below! How has it impacted your life or how do you plan to implement into upcoming research projects?