If you keep up on the latest retail news, you’ve no doubt read about some of the emerging applications of virtual and augmented reality. Together these are part of what is now being referred to as Extended Reality (XR) or Mixed Reality (MR). XR has been successfully utilized by brands like The North Face, Lowe’s, Ikea, and Sephora among many others.
Yet, when it comes to virtual reality specifically, you’ll read just as many articles from naysayers who don’t believe it is living up to the hype. As Forrester's Brendan Witcher told Retail Dive: "The reality is that smart retailers aren't making investments in technology for technology's sake…No one is going to walk into a retail store this year and say 'there's no VR, I'm out of here.'" And he’s absolutely right, at least for now.
VR, as commonly defined, is not the leading technology for the consumer side of retail. It has potential for sure, but immersive VR requires head-mounted displays and powerful, expensive computers, both of which consumers tend to shy away from when it comes to everyday types of interactions. The real emerging hero for consumers has been augmented reality, which can be viewed from a smart phone and applied while interacting with the real world. For example, Ikea Place, Ikea’s AR application for testing out furniture from any space.
VR's Best Fit
Immersive virtual reality still has its place in today’s retail landscape, however—just from the B-to-B side. Retailers and brands in 2018 continue to struggle with finding an identity amidst today’s experience-driven shoppers, which means they still need to be ever-conscious of budgets, time constraints and risk mitigation. VR solutions are the key to taking every day business processes and streamlining them within a virtual space. Our ShopperMX™ VR platform gives our clients tools they need to visualize new in-concepts and test them with real shoppers, before implementing anything in the real world. They can figure out what moves the needle for their shoppers without time-consuming mock centers and labor expenditures.
The fact is, VR retail solutions are less about the excitement of virtual worlds—although it is fun to be immersed within a virtual store—and more about what a practical tool it is for today’s innovative retailers and brands. VR just makes sense for B-to-B. Soon, other XR and MR applications will also play a big role in the workflow for brands and retailers behind the scenes, creating cohesive ways of viewing and collaborating with retail environments. Right now, brands teams can create and visualize a new display concept in virtual reality; but further down the road, those same teams will be able to better gain buy-in from the retailer by projecting a lifesize 3D augmented rendering of the same display while physically standing within the store. Switching between mediums like these will become commonplace.
For now, VR is paving the way for B-to-B, but in the near future VR, AR, and other mixed realities will all work together to disrupt both the way we live and the way we do business.