James Giglio has been working in extended reality (XR) since just after the financial crisis of 2008, when the economic turmoil brought about a massive change in the business world. He is now witnessing a new disorder caused by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now, as things reopen, there will still be this need for this brick-and-mortar shopping experience,” said Giglio, CEO and founder of the Philadelphia-based XR company. Interactive MVP. “But with augmented reality (RA), there are ways to enhance that shopping experience.”
Soon, virtual reality and virtual reality (VR) technology can be part of everyday life and everyday shopping. With that in mind, here are three ways virtual reality can transform e-commerce and retail.
Reduce buyer uncertainty
Will Gee is well aware that, in terms of price, many XR technologies are still at a “fairly high access point”. Still, Gee, who is the founder and CEO of Balti Virtual, a Baltimore-based XR development studio notes that there are many situations where technology can help reduce costs, especially when it comes to e-commerce
Many retailers, such as Wayfair, Ikea i Sephora, have launched AR-based experiments to test before buying for their customers. These programs project images into customers ’homes or even into their bodies so they can see what a product looks like before they buy it.
This technology, Gee points out, can help customers make more educated decisions. This is especially important considering that, like CNBC as reported in 2019, the rate of return of items purchased online can reach 15% to 40% for some retailers, much higher than the rate of in-store purchases.
However, RA can help calm some of the uncertainty involved in buying something through a computer screen. Clarity also goes both ways.
In some cases, it has also been shown to “try before you buy” to significantly increase online sales. A 2020 analysis of Shopify found that retailers using their AR test platform increased conversions on their product pages by up to 250%.
Introduce e-commerce in the store
“Try before you buy” is great for home shopping, but there are also many XR technologies specifically geared towards in-store experiences.
Giglio points to a wide range of options, all derived from a simple and singular action. By entering a store and scanning a QR code on their phones, users can open up a huge library of half-digital, half-real experiences.
For example, sustainable-minded stores could use the codes to provide interesting details about their materials or how they make their products. Or, perhaps most importantly, customers can use the codes to get information on out-of-print items.
“It’s a good opportunity for the brand to say,‘ Hey, this particular product isn’t in the store, but click here to buy it or for information on [similar] product under development, ”Giglio said.
These experiences combine access to e-commerce with the physical focus of a brick-and-mortar store. It’s a synthesis that also uses RA tools, such as in-store navigation maps, that allow shoppers to see a modified digitized version of the retail space. This technology, which can include directions, pricing, sales offers, and more, is particularly useful in larger stores, where navigation can be an issue.
Creating a digital “experience”
The expanded opportunities with XR and AR coincide with a significant increase in retail companies. According to a recent study, 822,000 applications were submitted for retail companies in 2020, 58% more than the previous year. Now more than ever, brick companies need to find a way to stand out.
One option, according to Gee, is to turn your store into an “experience.”
“Retailing, when possible, should have more information about the experience, whether that experience is talking to a really knowledgeable bookseller or playing a bunch of great video games,” he said. “Anyway, that looks like a future to me.”
Thanks to XR, there are countless ways to do it, but Gee notices it Under the armor provides a particularly useful example. In 2019, the chain launched a virtual experience in Scheels All sports, a North Dakota-based sporting goods chain. Customers were able to get into a digital photo booth and take pictures with virtual items of their favorite athletes, such as By Steph Curry mouth guard.
Beyond that, stores can use the technology to incorporate games, digitized graphics or, as Giglio points out, virtual versions of influencers and celebrities related to the product. All of these technologies make the in-store experience much more appealing.
For smaller business owners, these technologies may be out of reach at this time, but, as Gee points out, they will only become more accessible over time.
“Long-term technology is democratizing; it’s getting cheaper,” Gee says. “I think right now there are significant investments in creating an RA campaign, so it will start with groups that can take advantage of it in various locations, such as chains.”
That’s why, even if you may not install a VR headset or AR navigation system in your store tomorrow, it’s worth keeping abreast of all these exciting innovations, because if there’s one thing clear, AR and VR they are here to stay.