Not Just for Games: AR and VR for Shopping
Without much delivery, science fiction has been making us promises for decades that virtual reality will blow our minds. The equipment has been prohibitively expensive, and the pay-off has been unconvincing, if not nauseating. Only recently has access increased with hardware from Samsung and Google dipping to around $100, though many of the more powerful systems are at a higher price point. If you really want to go for a budget option, Google has provided a rock-bottom bargain: Google Cardboard, an actual VR headset made from cardboard for $15 that you assemble yourself. Bleeding-edge technology doesn’t get much more accessible than that!
As for content, video games are really stepping up in this area, with developers creating titles that leverage the immersive potential that has never before been at their disposal. But for the broader audience, there are possibilities to use VR to bring shopping to the home in a new way. This would create a much larger user base for VR, as not everyone plays games (though many of us do), but everyone has to shop. Walmart is one corporation that is putting its support behind this idea with its retail technology startup incubator called Store No. 8, showcasing high-tech brands that it thinks will spur VR growth and increase immersive online shopping. Alibaba, also known as the Amazon of China, launched Buy+ in 2016, a VR store where you can enjoy a unique experience. Shoppers can access different departments, view detailed product information, and purchase within the app.
But spreading this technology doesn’t just rely on consumers having a headset and using it at home. Brands are using them in-store to create experiences that they hope will increase visits, and therefore sales. Invoking the excitement of Fashion Week to engage customers, Tommy Hilfiger invited visitors to use their headsets to get immersed in the fashion show, as did Coach.
Instead of buying expensive or cumbersome virtual reality equipment, all you need to try augmented reality is a smartphone app. AR has created interactive experiences for many applications. Most of these apps place objects from different brands within the room that you happen to be in, which has been handy for companies like Ikea. Other brands that are rolling out AR apps including Neiman Marcus, Sephora and Jura.
In an attempt to bringing clothes into AR, The Gap partnered with developer Avametric to create an augmented reality app called DressingRoom that customers can use on compatible phones. While not exactly a “virtual mirror,” the app projects a mannequin into the room and you can customize its body type and size. You can move the avatar around to see clothes at different angles, and when you find something you would like to buy you order it online through the app.
A more customized experience was created by developers for Microsoft, using the Xbox One and the Kinect. The shopping app The Mall works with the integrated camera on the console so you can try clothes on virtually. It tracks your general size and maps outfits onto your body, giving an imperfect but very convenient way to try on dozens of clothes to see if they basically look good on you. While the exact fit isn’t part of the feature package, it’s practical in the sense that you can narrow down choices while accessing several brands.
The applications certainly have a ways to go to create a seamless experience, but VR and AR are tremendously convenient even if they’re not commensurately useful. Virtual reality for shopping at this point is being propelled by the glamour of its own potential, but augmented reality is coming into its own. Saving a trip to the store is one source of value, and giving us general ideas of what furniture will look like in our home, or clothes will look like on our bodies is tremendously helpful. You can also digitally try on many more items than you probably would have the patience for in the store. There’s also many ways this will be great for brands.
Data collection is always extremely valuable for businesses. With the eye tracking technology that increases the immersive quality of VR, companies could see what products customers are looking at, and compare those with what they choose to interact with, and of course purchase. Not only will customers try more items and possibly get more adventurous with styles, they would also be more comfortable trying different brands than they otherwise would. These types of online purchases compared to tradition online shopping would lead to fewer returns as customers will have a better appreciation of the products and less concerns with fit. While this won’t likely translate into customer savings, it’s possible though that it would keep some brands from going out of business with the narrow profit margins e-commerce demands. Making online sales more profitable will help smaller labels stay afloat, and greater diversity in the apparel market is certainly something to look forward to.
Immersive technologies like AR and VR are already changing the way businesses are creating shopping experiences. While making it easier for us to shop from home, it also provides access to brands and products that we normally would not be aware of. Whether it is in-store or online, we can now see runway shows and try products in an alternative experience and in-depth way. Immersion is making shopping more exciting, and thank God, it is saving us time finding what we like - and (not) returning what we don’t.