When will AR and VR become “realities” at retail?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Sep 15, 2016
Tom Ryan

Despite a ton of hype, applications for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) remain hard to spot at retail.

One challenge is making sure any the sci-fi element complements rather than disrupts the current shopping experience.

“Retailers need to consider how and why they’re using virtual reality and be confident any experience they create complements their marketing and communications and in-store strategies,” Gill Worby at Virgin Media recently told the U.K.’s Retail Week.

In a column for Harvard Business Review, Dan McKone, a managing director at L.E.K. Consulting, advises retailers looking to develop a virtual commerce strategy to identify the customers who would like an AR or VR solution and then establish a value proposition to justify the investment.

“Explain how the application solves the consumer’s problems and naturally extends the brand’s connection to the consumer,” Mr. McKone wrote. “A sporting goods store can focus on virtual tryouts of a new tennis racquet, for example, creating a point of differentiation from a mass retailer at which sporting equipment is an afterthought.”

The costs of any tech investment are always an issue and the many hardware choices out there can overwhelm retailers.

”Even smartphones and iPads can be used for AR and VR experiences,” Beck Besecker, CEO of virtual and augmented reality firm Marxent, recently told Stores Magazine.” 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.”

Indeed, a panel at NRF’s 2016 Big Show appeared to agree that many existing technologies, including smartphones, could go a long way in blending the online and in-store experience.

According to Sourcing Journal, Chris Riegel, CEO of Stratacache, told the audience, “Show me a chain retailer that’s going to roll out VR and I’ll show you a CIO that’s going to be out of a job in two weeks.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for retailers looking to develop an AR and/or VR strategy? Do you agree with those who think AR and VR will transform the shopping experience?

Braintrust
"Retailers should be reviewing the core platform that their business operates on before adding all the fancy point solutions."
"My advice is to wait … retailers are not early adopters, they are frequently not fast followers, but slow to adopt new technology."
"Many comments from my esteemed BrainTrust colleagues suggest that retailers wait. My answer is a bit different — it depends."

Join the Discussion!

28 Comments on "When will AR and VR become “realities” at retail?"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

AR might have some minimal use, providing more information about a product than is contained on the package or on the shelf. VR might be usable as a home shopping tool, but the price tag is high, the benefits likely to be minimal. I’m with Chris Riegel on this — implement and start looking for a new job.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Agreed Stephen. Where augmented reality adds information to a real world view, the immersive VR virtual reality experience is a different view. The VR work of neuroscientist Diana Lucaci, Founder and CEO of Toronto-based True Impact, offers some key insights. That “90% of human decisions are driven by feelings,” and that “We have found that the brain’s response to a real, physical environment and a digital VR environment are indistinguishable.”

Physical retailers should continue to “focus on the feelings” that lead to the “buy button” of the brain, while allowing time for maturity of the application of VR to retail, which will no doubt be either an in-store attraction or more likely, augment the online experience.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Ultimately VR and AR will change the shopping experience as PART OF the reinvention of both the store and overall retail experience. But it’s going to take time.

Retailers don’t have buckets of money to spend on technologies that have “maybe” ROI … they have been too busy trying to finish the “must have” ROI projects associated with omnichannel. But eventually, it’s a possibility.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Guest
Patricia Vekich Waldron
1 year 8 days ago

Totally agree, Paula! Retailers are having a tough time balancing experimentation and innovation while modernizing their core systems and infrastructure.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The market for virtual reality is largely being driven by gaming today but more everyday applications — like shopping – are currently being developed and tested at several retailers we’re familiar with. Some of the higher-margin, luxury retailers may be able to support an AR/VR strategy as part of their “experience” but Paula is right that it will be some time before it becomes part of a broader retail transformation with measurable ROI.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Where I’m surprised is that all the retailer VR ideas are pretty silly to a tech based guy like me. Like the home improvement idea of “we’ll put you in a VR of your kitchen.”

Do you know what that takes? Hours inputting a model of your existing structure. And what you get out of it? Colors that are digital and therefore aren’t what they’d be in real life, cabinets that wouldn’t be the right color/texture and lack the tactile’s of opening closing, etc.

As a former tech guy, we need to remember that most tech is only tech … and it’s desperately running around looking for a reason to be used. Don’t buy ideas that are born of desperation in the tech biz.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

VR offers intriguing audience-of-one engagement, but it is just one “screen media” in the arsenal of digital media that enables retail, and is nascent in every way (technology, experience design, cost/benefit, etc. etc.). Retailers should turn away from the shiny object and focus on media that is already proven to move all the needles and is under-applied. Like branding and promotion with attention-grabbing digital signage, endless isle/inventory access, self-serve information/order, shelf-level promotion, store-in-store and pop-up merchandising, tablet for associate sales support, check out display for perceived dwell time reduction and digital display that improves the attraction, ambiance and vitality of the retail location all provide “audience-of-many” benefits. Take advantage of what is available and proven, retailers.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

My advice to retailers looking to develop an AR or VR experience is to wait. Right now the equipment is expensive and temperamental and producing the experience is expensive. Within a few years, the technology will make great leaps forward and be more reliable. Retailers are in the business of selling products, not creating and operating cutting edge technology.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

That last sentence is my mantra. As true as I think it is, many in retail seem to ignore it in favor of adding technology. Many still don’t even have the basic technology right.

Jasmine Glasheen
Guest
Jasmine Glasheen
1 year 8 days ago

Although virtual reality is undeniably the future of retail, retailers have become too ambitious in its application. VR and AR should be used to enhance the shopping experience. Sure, right now there’s a wave of excitement surrounding VR. It’s a great way to bring customers to your store and generate excitement for your brand. But the excitement will ebb and VR and IR systems will have to have practical applications in order to merit their cost.

Tom Redd
Guest
I couldn’t care less about which form of non reality a retailer thinks about, but I would advise to sit back and watch the early spenders waste a ton of capital on that while you focus store or channel capital on making the customer’s trip and associate’s job easier and more enjoyable. One of the two over PR’d items — VR/AR — will make sense someday, but the costs etc right now are too high and the ROI is where? Never make changes based on PR NOISE. Today there are too many “experts” via all the online tech channels. Ignore the noise and focus on real proof, real experience — not promo quotes — and your gut feel. Retailers should be reviewing the core platform that their business operates on before adding all the fancy point solutions. It is time for getting back to the basics of retail. It is the only way to deal with the new “MORE” factor our space is facing — MORE types of fashion, MORE channels, MORE customer segments, MORE supply chain issues, and MORE data/content then we have ever had — and MORE true real-time. Focus on the basics and MORE. It is the… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

While VR/AR technologies make for great PR opportunities and trade show demos the biggest challenge here is the why, how, where and when to even begin to justify their use that will benefit the shopper in a meaningful way. I’m sure the agencies will tout the importance of AR/VR as they now have another method to bill their clients to develop expense award-winning content followed by a PR event. They’ve already done the website(s) and mobile apps — they need yet another excuse. The pragmatic reality is retailers and brands should first focus on just meeting today’s shopper’s cross-channel expectations. Maybe they can use AR/VR technology to see what this may look like!

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Right on. The PR value of presenting a resort, cruise, travel, concert, sport, gaming or real estate sales experience (as examples) can attract traffic to the retail location by those with interest.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I don’t think VR in the store does a whole lot for me. But, bring the store home via VR changes my whole shopping experience.

I have the New York Times VR app and it is a (forgive the overstatement) mind blowing experience. Just imagine what VR could be like in 5 or 10 years? One may never (overstatement again) need a real live store, ever.

Jerry Gelsomino
BrainTrust

No! It’s will be a short-lived trend. The customer craves authenticity.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust

When? The day after never!

Shawn Harris
BrainTrust

I believe furniture, home improvement, and fashion could leverage AR and VR for immersive contextual visualizations, before you buy, to drive confidence in one’s purchase — from the comfort of your home.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
While it may be said that both AR and VR technologies are already realities, these technologies ave been long-on-ramp situations for mainstream retail. If you haven’t played with Google Skymap to locate planets and constellations, then you don’t really know augmented reality. For me, that was three smartphones ago. I also tested an AR “reality browsing” app on my first smartphone more than 5 years ago, that superimposed shop location icons on the screen when you aimed the phone’s camera down the street (but only in a few cities, like Portland). Very similar to the Pokemon Go experience that has captivated so many folks this year. The reality browser was put to amazing use in 2009 at the Voodoo festival in New Orleans. Other than a few demos on my Google Cardboard, the most interesting VR example I’ve seen yet for retailers is Lowe’s Holoroom, which uses Oculus-type headsets to give customers a 360-degree “inside look” at a kitchen or bathroom plan with virtual renderings of fixtures and surfaces. Beck Besecker, founder of the tech vendor, Marxent, shared a demo at last April’s Global Retailing Conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This might actually be useful for some… Read more »
Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Brands and businesses need to integrate AR and VR strategically and holistically into their omnichannel strategies for a successful adaption by customers and clients.

I see IKEA doing this well with the AR catalog app they introduced in 2013. I also see the NFL integrating VR nicely with more than a dozen teams using VR to better train players and improve performance.

Lowe’s is rolling out Holoroom with Oculus and time will tell how shoppers adapt. What is cool in this case is that the design developed in-store can be uploaded to YouTube and viewed at home on Google Cardboard with the shoppers smartphone.

AR and VR are already transforming the shopping experience, online and offline. In certain respects, they are paving the way for MR — Mixed Reality.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

We are currently working with retailer and CPG brands on this, and we see some compelling reasons to pursue these technologies. Of course, the organization must prioritize its projects appropriately. AR/VR may end up way down the list if properly vetted. You’ll see some good, practical examples at shop.org and at NRF’s annual event in NYC. It’s worth exploring as a potential differentiator … for now.

Vahe Katros
Guest

Most retailers are fast followers and chances are, you in this camp. That means you don’t have an innovation center in Silicon Valley (or India) and your budget is being spent for more fundamental things — but — just as an FYI, here’s how Lowe’s describes their work, on this site:

“Visualizing a completed home improvement project is hard. Communicating that vision to someone else? Even harder. This challenge has stopped many home improvement projects in their tracks, but powerful new augmented, mixed and virtual reality tools are transforming visualization for customers when designing and renovating their homes. Lowe’s Innovation Labs is evolving the customer’s shopping experience to encompass new three-dimensional channels, through mixed reality projects in partnership with Microsoft HoloLens and Google Tango, and the Lowe’s Holoroom virtual reality store, now in its third generation.”

As others have said, the Lowe’s category makes this a worthwhile area to test but perhaps there might be an analogous customer pain that exists in your category. Oh, and if you are an innovative retailer that serves an audience where hip matters and you are testing AR/VR ideas, expect to have visitors who are trying to augment their retail reality.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

It bears noting that VR as a retail tool need not be just customer-facing. Visualizing design concepts as digital renderings can draw from digital plans, and are useful to design refinement in a way that reduces experience and design cost and time. VR and a design tool for physical environments is used today and is the primary force toward consumer application.

Vahe Katros
Guest

Good point – I remember seeing this Amazon patent that relates to their efforts to use A/R in their warehouses.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

My advice is to wait … retailers are not early adopters, they are frequently not fast followers, but slow to adopt new technology. In our 17th annual POS Survey (go to http://www.bostonretailpartners.com under the Resources tab) 27% of retailers said they run POS software that is greater than 8 years old, 74% consider their organizations to be slow or mainstream adopters, and 0% considered themselves an innovator. The reality of “reality” is that the technology needs to mature, standards need to be developed and adoption will happen … eventually.

Vahe Katros
Guest

I agree that most retailers are not early adopters or fast followers when it comes to mission critical back-office applications like POS, but on the customer facing side, where A/R and VR applications may appear, the trajectory could be different.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

AR and VR definitely have a place in retail, many years from now. The store operators who are coming to my Store Operations meeting next month say that they are most interested in the intersection of store and online, and until they get that right, everything else is going to wait.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

While AR/VR isn’t a “today or tomorrow” priority for retail, it does have a place down the road. To simply dismiss AR/VR as a fad is shortsighted. It will change and evolve like anything else before it someday becomes more integrated into the shopping experience but it will happen. After all, how many things from Star Trek are in some evolved way, reality today?

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Many comments from my esteemed BrainTrust colleagues suggest that retailers wait. My answer is a bit different — it depends. For clothing retailers and cosmetic/beauty stores, I suggest it be investigated now (there are some emerging technologies that look applicable). For grocers, hardware stores, and c-stores, I don’t see an application today. Technology is emerging quickly and I envision a day where costs — and consumer acceptance — converge and create a “Pokemon Go” moment that includes VR/AR at retail.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers should be reviewing the core platform that their business operates on before adding all the fancy point solutions."
"My advice is to wait … retailers are not early adopters, they are frequently not fast followers, but slow to adopt new technology."
"Many comments from my esteemed BrainTrust colleagues suggest that retailers wait. My answer is a bit different — it depends."

Take Our Instant Poll

Do AR and VR have a greater potential to transform the brick & mortar or online shopping experience?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...