Once the mirage on the retail horizon, augmented and virtual reality technologies are getting closer and could prove to be an effective lure for keeping shoppers in their stores while also enabling them to shop online.
Global fashion brand Zara has released an app that enables customers to watch models walking around the store wearing the latest clothes, then click through and buy what they fancy.
Converse, Topshop and Uniqlo all use augmented reality apps and make-up behemoth Sephora already offers virtual artist technology where shoppers can use their phones to try on make-up colours and looks before buying.
Ikea has launched an app which allows consumers to experiment with furniture placement and UK cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury has installed a ‘magic mirror’ in its stores which scans shoppers’ faces and applies the latest looks without ever trying on any make-up.
Associate professor Sean Sands, co-director of Swinburne University’s Customer Experience & Insight (CXI) Research Group, said virtual reality is more of a gaming technology while augmented reality is headed towards retail.
“A lot of shopping centres are looking at how they can bring in more customers with VR but the opportunity with AR is huge,” Dr Sands said.
Deloitte research indicates revenues from the VR/AR market will grow to $US162 billion in 2020 from just $US5.2 billion in 2016.
Dr Sands said “Augmenting your reality with information is what are going to see in the next three to five years.”
“For instance, walking down the aisle and using your device, whether it’s a mobile or something else, to just get information or the provenance of an item on the shelves. It will be about making the shopping experience seamless,” he said.
Australia is still in the early days, way behind the US and China where customers have proven more willing to give away the kind of personal data that feeds into the development of the apps, he said.
More than three million ARKit apps, Apple’s augmented reality software for smartphones, have been installed since iOS 11 launched last September, according to the Sensor Tower Intelligence report.
Deloitte’s technology partner Robbie Robertson said “We are now starting to have more serious conversations about how our clients can use the technologies”.
“It’s about giving employees more time to spend with consumers,” Mr Robertson said.
At the most basic level, virtual and augmented reality technologies can be used to help shop employees find lost stock in the storeroom.
Scentre chief executive Peter Allen told analysts at its most recent results briefing that the fast evolving retail market made “it even more important to create a compelling reason for customers to visit, stay and engage” at centres.
“The role of a physical store and online site can be interchangeable. Retailers that provide consumers with a compelling offer across all formats are growing their business at a faster rate than others,” Mr Allen said.
Colliers International retail leasing agent Jarrod Herscu said “Companies who utilise this modern technology are giving themselves a competitive advantage by creating greater access to their products, and giving the consumer an added element of ‘experience’.”
“During the pre-purchase phase where consumers are deciding on which product to buy, ease, convenience and engagement play a large part in the ultimate purchase decision,” Mr Herscu said.