Will VR/AR keep consumers out of stores?

Discussion
Photo: CES
Mar 03, 2017
Tom Ryan

A new survey from GPShopper finds consumers are highly interested in using both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as part of the shopping experience. However, many are seeing the technology as a way to avoid going to the store.

Asked about virtual reality’s potential role in the shopping experience, 46 percent say they want to use VR to try on clothes and accessories without going into a store. Twenty-four percent want to use VR so they don’t have to go into a store anymore.

Similarly, 44 percent want to use AR to try on clothes and accessories without going into the store. Fifty-eight percent want to use AR to see how certain items might look in a different color before buying.

On the subject of in-store staff, 23 percent of respondents would rather talk to a VR sales assistant instead of a real human, and 23 percent want access to a personal shopper in a virtual environment.

The technologies are also seen as a valuable product information tool. Half want to use AR to get additional information about a product, such as ingredients or the materials used, while 42 percent want to use VR to see where/how a product was made.

The survey finds that 68 percent of consumers are familiar with VR. The technology has received some negative press lately as the hyped retail launch of several VR headsets last year disappointed. Besides high prices, the shortfall has been blamed on a lack of must-have content and users experiencing nausea and dizziness. With the popularity of Pokemon Go, AR has received more favorable media coverage lately, but the GPShopper survey found only 20 percent of consumers are familiar with AR.

Compared to other newer technologies, VR and AR rank much higher than virtual assistants, chatbots and smart mirrors in their potential to improve the shopping experience. Self-checkout was found to be the most useful shopper technology.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the arrival of VR and AR shopping technologies make the physical store more or less relevant for consumers? What part do you expect such technologies to play in the path to purchase?

Braintrust
"Inspiration, emotions and temporal excitation will always start in the physical world."
"VR/AR will not keep shoppers out of stores for bigger ticket items like furniture. It will for smaller products."
"For most retail categories, VR and AR won’t impact the relevancy of the physical store but may impact the customer journey."

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25 Comments on "Will VR/AR keep consumers out of stores?"

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Jon Polin
BrainTrust

With my stomach still turning from my VR “boat race” in a Samsung store yesterday, this topic is top of mind for me. Much as VR is hot and getting much attention, we are still a ways off from viability as a tool to prevent store visits. I don’t yet see it as more effective than standard fare e-commerce tools for apparel. That being said, if it does reduce store visits, that shouldn’t be the concern for retailers. As with all retail technologies, the retailers that embrace multichannel and stop worrying about channel cannibalization are the ones who will win when the promise of VR does become reality.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Right! It’s about how all of the channels can come together to create a better/faster/easier customer experience. Physical stores will need to change over time to be a less central part of the commerce experience, but no, they’re no less important in the foreseeable future.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

VR and AR shopping will not replace the physical store in the next 15 years. Beyond that — who knows? Inspiration, emotions and temporal excitation will always start in the physical world. The use cases cited — VR/AR dressing rooms to “see” what a style, color and fit looks like in the privacy of your home — will certainly be developed and accepted. VR technologies will be (and are being) used to design and develop physical stores, allowing you to “experience” the design prior to building out the physical space.

Jasmine Glasheen
Guest
Jasmine Glasheen
8 months 18 days ago

I’ve heard VR and AR lauded as the answer to the online return problem. But for VR to cut returns retailers have to get transparent about the touch and feel of their products. Some customers are alright wearing lower quality materials in order to get a good price, others expect the clothes to feel like they’re described on the website. Until virtual reality can replicate the touch and feel of a product, brick-and-mortar will remain relevant.

If anything, hopefully shopping tech will cut down on fitting room time and bring a little blood back to the retail industry.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

If you’ve ever put a VR/AR headset on and “walked” a space (which is something we do here a lot) you would know this: VR/AR will NEVER replace the feeling you get in a physical environment. It’s just not the same. It’s very cool in terms of determining what a store/environment looks like, but it is not a replacement for the experience. Not even close, IMO.

As a metaphor, imagine meeting someone virtually and shaking their hand. You can look at that person, maybe even talk to them, but you’ll never know what it’s like to physically shake their hand. A store is something you smell, hear, feel and touch — you don’t just see it. There are at least four senses missing in a VR encounter. Good for a lot of things, but not as a replacement for actually going to a store.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Over the long term, retailers may be in charge of their own stores’ destiny depending on how and what they deliver to consumers in the way of AR/VR. Retailers can make it irrelevant to go to a store, or they can deliver just enough of a teaser to make consumers want to visit their stores to see and buy the real thing. As always, the impact will vary among merchandise categories. For example, there is little that is attractive about going to a supermarket to buy a can of soup or a bag of chips and I may opt to walk down the VR aisles of the supermarket, pick what I want along my virtual journey, pay for it and either have it wait for me to pick it up or have it delivered to my house.

Dave Nixon
Guest
Dave Nixon
8 months 18 days ago

VR/AR will not keep shoppers out of stores for bigger ticket items like furniture. It will for smaller products. And actually, if retailers leverage it in this way as the technology evolves, it will be a driver for the final phase of conversion in the buying journey for items where the shopper needs to “get it right.” For now we have to work on the technology ecosystem and the asset ingestion process that delivers the product catalog and models in a positive way to activate this method as a real traffic driver. It’s coming, but it is not yet a replacement for buying those bigger-ticket items.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Personally, I love using VR tech. However, there are several factors that will inhibit the growth of this technology in retailing for a while. The first issue is mass adoption — being familiar with VR doesn’t mean it is mainstream and the cost and computing requirements are still prohibitive to many. First, yes you can use the Samsung Gear VR headset but it overheats after a period of time so it just doesn’t lend itself to more intensive use over time. Second, some categories will lend themselves better to this than others. And third, it is going to take the impetus of a major retailer (think Amazon) with a large enough base of shoppers to implement this in a way that is compelling. So while the idea of VR is great, without mass adoption and an experience to drive it this will take a while to surpass other forms of shopping.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

AR/VR will become another commerce channel in the omnichannel retail ecosystem.
Yes, it will enhance the home shopping experience. However it will not give the customer the in-store service experience and the advantage of expert advice, nor will it give them the feel of a product. There is no replacing trying on a pair of jeans before buying them. Is a size 32 of Levi’s the same as a 32 or 34 of Guess Jeans? Does it look short, or pinch at the waist? (you get the point.)

AR/VR is going to enhance the online experience. It will become an extension of omnichannel and will make shoppers even more savvy. I don’t think it is going to make a material impact on reducing the in-store experience … but it MAY help keep the shopper focused on your seamless brand experience!

Kim Garretson
BrainTrust
8 months 18 days ago

The key to making physical shopping more fun and relevant with these technologies is with technology that does not require the shopper to do anything like wear a headset or use their mobile device. This includes holographic projected imagery, and the big bet of course is with the startup Magic Leap, which has raised $1.4 billion. While the media has recently reported the company is behind in deploying its solution for enhancing physical experiences, with that much capital my bet is they will get there in a year or two.

Di Di Chan
Guest

VR/AR shopping technology may be better suited for buyers to try in a showroom to review a new collection instead of for the endusers. It is cool but does not add enough convenience (e.g., you still have to set up, put on an expensive VR headset, clear space so you don’t run into things, load the right file before getting inside the proper VR demo room) or savings (VR is expensive and it will take a long time for there to be enough users to incentivize brands to add in discounts for the VR experience) to disrupt physical stores. I see VR making a lot more of an impact in games, art, education (imagine learning about the solar system while going there!), real estate and event promotion industries long before it will significantly impact the general retail space.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

All this research points to the increasing value that consumer are putting on their time, and that is the core insight for retailers. Value their time as they do, enriching it in every way possible. Does AR/VR fit into this mission? It sure does. And as some some cost issues get flattened out, this screen media technology will leverage marketing investment in everything from package design to call centers. Christmas 2017 will deliver the first data points on AR/VR shopper use and I believe the hockey stick curve will start from there.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

I actually think it will make the store even more relevant for consumers. Not many if any retailer will ship items for free and many more will want consumers in the store for impulse buys. Therefore, the click and collect model of online and AR/VR shopping will be the norm and make stores more relevant. The technologies are great for those who can afford them and like to use them, but sooner or later something else will cone along and take over. However, if the shopper wants to see and/or try on product the instant buy will still be at the store — the customer will have to go there if only to pick up the product.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Smart retailers will incorporate VR/AR and AI into the store experience to make the shopping experience more fun, useful and entertaining, giving the consumer a reason to come into the store. Customers will be able to relax with a glass of wine and watch the latest runway show or watch how well their favorite climbing gear moves and breathes while in action. They will be able to talk with a pro or banter with Watson to get to the right solution. It’s all there for the re-making of our stores.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Ken Cassar
BrainTrust

Apparel is the biggest e-commerce category, but the inability to try on and feel products online has undoubtedly inhibited its growth. VR and AR don’t solve the feel problem. If retailers were able to compel consumers to have their bodies scanned in detail, and they were willing to maintain precise measurements of each product, it could possibly fix the fit problem, but I’ve seen this tried before and it has gone nowhere. Count me as a skeptic.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Most of my colleagues are saying “Maybe … but not yet.”

My answer is that consumers will stay away from stores only if stores want them to. Unfortunately too many of them are doing a good job of that.

Thomas Becker
Guest
8 months 18 days ago

Without a doubt this changes the role of the physical store as physical traffic transforms into virtual traffic. We started with BOPIS, then home delivery … this technology enables the consumer to shop at home and have the products delivered. Imagine the next generation on this to preserve the in-store “experience” — personalized virtual shopping assistants, VR rooms being built into homes, 3-D projection without the use of headsets immersing you in the experience (shopping or entertainment) … we are just getting started, and what an incredible opportunity it is for retailers.

bruce Condit
Guest

According to a recent Accenture study, event 66 percent of Generation Z shoppers still prefer to shop in stores. I agree AR/VR may eventually evolve and make it more convenient to “try” a product at home. However, with even the latest generation still preferring to see products in physical stores, it may take a while for this technology to catch on. The real value of AR/VR right now is its ability to allow store designers and retail facility managers to interact with new store designs to identify physical issues even before the space is built. This has the potential to save millions in re-design and construction costs.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

The fascinating fact that consumers are interested in using VR to avoid going to a physical store bears investigation. What are the primary drawbacks to physical shopping? What are the irreplaceable assets? What does tech do well and poorly?

Answering these questions, category by category, should begin to point the way to defining the new role of in-store shopping. Creating a physical destination, which is still relevant and irreplaceable, needs to be the mission of retailers who plan to survive the next wave of technology.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

There is always a segment of shoppers who prefers never to shop physically, they previously would be catalog shoppers. Today they have more options with the web and AR/VR/mobile. A newer generation of shoppers, I believe, will shop in the store when there is a compelling experience to bring them in. In one sense all the technology has increased the opportunity for retailers because the time window for shopping is anytime, anywhere, rather than the traditional “Sunday shopping.” The issue is that not every retailer can adjust to this when they are focused just on store experiences.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

VR and AR are hot topics. My feeling is that it is just another layer of experience added to the online shopping experience. Yes, it takes two dimensional images and turned them into 3-D or even better, but that doesn’t mean you can try on that pair of pants that looks so good on the screen — or touch the fabric of that suit or dress. It’s still “virtual.” I love the idea of enhancing the online experience with VR and AR. Yes, it will change the numbers for some physical stores. But here is my take on all of the discussions about online, in-store, etc … Maybe the consumer is migrating to doing more shopping online. It may make a physical store a little less “relevant” — but it doesn’t make the retailer less relevant! The retailer has to adjust and change. What makes a retailer less relevant won’t be because of online versus in-store. It will be because they didn’t adapt to the way their customers like to buy.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

VR and AR technologies are new and exciting. But to think they will replace physical retail stores is a real stretch. First, all of the retail items content would need to be developed for the VR/AR system, a huge task when there are many SKUs in the store. Then the content has to be delivered to the multiple types and capabilities of the VR/AR systems on the market. Then as good as VR/AR systems are, they cannot replicate the lighting and actual color the customer’s eyes would see in a real store or the feedback that would come from associates or friends of the customer. Finally, texture and feel of apparel cannot be simulated with VR/AR.

It will be a very long time before consumers stop going into stores because they use their VR or AR system at home.

Min-Jee Hwang
BrainTrust

As many have stated before, VR and AR are still rapidly growing. At GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco this week, a lot of new VR tech was revealed. Among them was a game specifically designed to be fast paced in “movement” that most would expect to result in motion sickness. And yet because of the forethought put into the game’s design, nobody got sick, maybe slightly dizzy but no protein spills. The developments in gaming are what I believe will push VR tech along faster than anything else. Once there is a high percentage of adoption among gamers with improvements in the technology, then VR and AR will be ready for consumers for a virtual shopping experience that’s everything people expect.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

For most retail categories, VR and AR won’t impact the relevancy of the physical store but may impact the customer journey. While it is the cool new shiny object today and every wants to try it, it can’t and won’t replace the in-store experience. Consumers still love the theater of shopping and, for many products, consumers want to touch, feel and try before they buy. VR and AR can be a good tool to create interest and excitement for products and are very conducive for very visual merchandise like apparel and furniture, but many consumer will use it more for a research tool than a decision tool.

According to a survey from IBM and NRF, even the tech savvy Generation Z consumers prefer to shop in stores, as 67% of Generation Z shop in bricks-and-mortar stores most of the time. Contrary to pundits’ claims for many years, the store is not dead or even dying.

Morgan Linton
Guest
I think the arrival of VR and AR shopping technologies could actually make the store more relevant for consumers. Here’s what I’m thinking. We’re still years away (say 5 – 10) from mass consumer adoption of VR or AR. This means that many consumers will actually try a VR or AR experience for the first time in-store. Physical stores that add VR or AR experiences to their store so that shoppers can fully immerse themselves in a completely new kind of shopping experience stand to set themselves apart from other retailers and define themselves as true innovators. Imagine wanting to try on ten pairs of pants in combination with five shirts and three sweaters. That could easily take half an hour of taking clothes on and off in a disorganized dressing room. Now imagine doing this in AR or VR, you could do exactly the same thing in a fraction of the time. This would likely lead to shoppers who buy more because they are able to try more, and in a much more innovative way than ever before. I can see technologies like AR and VR playing a major role in the path to purchase both in-store and at… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Inspiration, emotions and temporal excitation will always start in the physical world."
"VR/AR will not keep shoppers out of stores for bigger ticket items like furniture. It will for smaller products."
"For most retail categories, VR and AR won’t impact the relevancy of the physical store but may impact the customer journey."

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