Feb 28, 2019

How are AR and VR Impacting eCommerce Retailers and What Does The Future Hold?

In recent times the rising adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology has shaped the way that consumers interact with eCommerce brands significantly. Recent studies suggest 80% of US consumers alone have some awareness of VR while 79% of those that have tried it would do so again.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the worldwide adoption of immersive technology is on the rise with the UK, the US, and China leading the way. In fact, at present, 95% of the world’s VR equipment is produced in China, with its own government pledging to support the development of virtual reality across the nation.

How are AR and VR Impacting eCommerce Retailers and What Does The Future Hold?

Both AR and VR offer today’s digitally-driven consumers a unique opportunity to transport themselves, virtually (of course), into an immersive experience where they can get up close and personal with a brand as well as its services or products. With this brave new eCommerce trend comes a wealth of opportunity.

Here we explore how VR and AR are impacting eCommerce while asking what the future holds for the relationship between these emerging technologies and online shopping.

Bridging the digital and physical worlds

While many experts and publications have touted the death of the high street, it seems that we may be living in the midst of a bricks-and-mortar renaissance.

ECommerce brands are now able to offer a more bespoke customer experience than ever before, making bricks and mortar shopping experiences an extension of online shopping, and vice-versa. And, with colossal eCommerce players like Amazon preparing to enter the physical arena, it seems that with AR- or VR-driven capabilities, there is great potential in marrying the physical and online shopping experience.

While a host of established eCommerce-only brands would be reluctant to set up physical stores due to associated costs and resources, there are opportunities to partner with retailers operating in physical spaces through using AR and VR platforms, applications and initiatives to boost brand awareness.

To illustrate the power of how these immersive technologies are shaping eCommerce in a physical sense, let’s look at renowned US retailer, Macy’s. To enhance its in-store shopping experience and boost commercial growth online, Macy’s selected 69 furniture stores across the US which now offer innovative immersive features, functions, and displays.

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By using a seamless blend of VR and AR to its advantage, Macy's has married online and offline shopping, making it one seamless, hyper-connected experience. Its most recent initiative, ‘Visualize Your Space’, allows shoppers to place various items of furniture in their home environment while shopping in-store.

Here, customers get to see, touch, and experience the products on a personal level while leveraging the power of immersive technology to decide if they are worth buying. As a result of this AR-driven initiative, the typical shopping basket size in these tech-fitted stores is said to be 60% larger compared to other Macy’s furniture branches.

Moreover, this AR- and VR-driven success has had a positive impact on the brand’s eCommerce sales, with a 50% boost to its in-app sales at the start of last year. What a testament to the power of a marriage between VR, AR, and online shopping.

Extreme personalization and immersive online shopping

The interactive nature of VR and AR means that online consumers can now enjoy a far more personalized, more meaningful shopping experience.

While many are aware of AR- and VR-driven technologies, and despite their proven eCommerce success rate, 61% of brands are not using this technology at all. However, this year, and beyond, an increasing number of eCommerce brands will use these capabilities to further personalize the customer experience and set themselves apart from the pack.

A host of today’s Fortune 500 companies including Walmart, Boeing, and UPS are using VR for their consumer marketing efforts in addition to training, education, and inspiration of their employees.

One early adopter of VR technology, Amazon recently patented a mirror in conjunction with Body Labs that can dress you in virtual clothing, adding an layer of extreme personalization to the experience that the brand offers to its customers.

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This partially-reflective and partially-transmissive device, if fully materialized, will zoom in on the face of the user, transporting them into a reflective environment where they can test different outfit combinations virtually, empowering them to make informed choices based on lifelike interactions without leaving home.

Another notable example of brands using VR to drive extreme personalization while creating an all-encompassing shopping experience, virtually, is the thriving startup, Snapfeet. Using 3D biometric imaging to allow customers to scan themselves using its dedicated app, an AI-powered algorithm serves up a host of “tailored” recommendations based on attributes like shoe size, foot shape, and style preferences. This immersive app also showcases its recommendations through interactive 3D imaging that empowers the user to visualize the products before buying them:

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While this particular innovation is in its infancy, it has already been well-received by critics as well as consumers, suggesting that we will see an exponential rise in this type of highly immersive eCommerce shopping experience in the near future.

AR, VR, and the future of eCommerce

Studies show that in the US alone, around 22 million people experienced VR in 2018, with this number expected to rise to 49 million by the end of 2019. That’s an incredible rate of adoption.

That said, here are some predictions for AR, VR and eCommerce in the not so distant future:

  • AR and VR will continue to drive and shape experiential marketing, giving eCommerce brands more tools, and scope, to place their audience deep into their products, services or content in a mobile or virtual sense.
  • The continual rise of immersive technology will allow eCommerce brands to make their brand storytelling efforts far more interactive and immersive, allowing the user to drive the content and interact with the business on a deep, personal level.
  • As AR becomes all the more integrated into our daily lives, with apps and virtual touchpoints readily available at each and every turn, eCommerce businesses can utilize the wealth of data generated from these touchpoints to completely customize a user’s online shopping experience down to the last detail.
  • Peer-to-peer online reviews and opinions will remain pivotal to ongoing eCommerce success, but as VR and AR will allow customers to place themselves in the heart of the shopping experience (as technology progresses and adoption rises), brands will need to make their virtual applications, offerings, and initiatives flawless to remain competitive and drive growth.
  • A recent study discovered that more than 70% of shoppers confirm beacon-triggered content and offers increases their likelihood of purchasing in-store. With notable brands such as Urban Outfitters and Timberland all using beacon senor technology to provide a completely seamless, ultra-connected shopping experience, it could be the Internet of Things (IoT) working in conjunction with VR or AR innovations that will change the face of retail in the future. By fusing elements of IoT-driven technology and VR, it’s likely that automated checkouts, deeply personalized deals or discounts and product optimization are likely emerge this year, and beyond.

“Why shouldn’t people be able to teleport wherever they want?” -  Palmer Luckey, Founder of Oculus VR

There’s no doubt about it: AR and VR are completely transforming the eCommerce landscape and by embracing the endless possibilities of these powerful innovations, online brands, business and marketers (and consumers) all stand to reap great rewards.

No longer is placing AR or VR at the heart of your marketing strategy a far-flung luxury, now it’s essential if you want to thrive and indeed, survive, in tomorrow’s world.

Buckle up.

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