AR, VR and MR: Altering and augmenting reality for retail
- Posted on January 2, 2020
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Imagine your interested in what some IKEA shelves might look like in your home. The IKEA mobile app allows you to turn on a live view via the camera on your phone, place a 3D model of the shelves in the view of your room and get an augmented reality experience of how they might look and fit. According to Gartner, 46% of retailers plan to deploy some form of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) or mixed reality (MR) technology by 2020. When you combine that with a projected more than 100 million active shoppers by 2020 and IDC’s projection of $160B in worldwide spending in the tech in 2023, it’s easy to see the opportunity for innovation for retail.
The key to getting value out of AR/VR/MR in retail is to not think of the technology and devices as a channel, but rather, as an integral element of a boundaryless customer journey. However, before we outline recommendations, let's take a quick look at the state of the technology and how it is currently being used. There is a spectrum of related technology in use to augment existing environments or create new ones using digital displays that fall under AR/VR/MR.
Augmented reality: Typically implemented through a live camera view on a phone or table, augmented reality adds graphics and 3D models on the view of the world seen through the camera lens. These models can be dynamic and seemingly anchored to the environment in realistic ways.
You can find augmented reality in the IKEA app to see furniture in your home and also in apps from Blue Nile for seeing engagement rings on your hand, Starbucks for adding interactivity and customer service to a physical store in Shanghai, and YouCam Makeup to see cosmetic products on users faces.
Virtual reality: Virtual reality headsets create a full 3D immersive view for users. Full headsets, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive can be expensive devices on their own, but lower cost options are becoming increasingly available. In VR, the user can see and interact with 3D objects and environments that may not exist in the real world.
While VR is being tested for direct buying experiences with Walmart filing patents for VR stores and Alibaba recently testing VR shopping, the widest range of tests are coming from brand experiences indirectly related to buying or in back-of-house, operational solutions. Accenture teamed with Specular Theory last year to build a "Behind the Style" backstage fashion shoot experience that allowed users to be immersed in the experience but also interact with the products. VR experiments in employee training and in merchandising and planogram are also lighting up store operations in new ways.
Mixed reality: Between AR and VR, a new set of experiences is being enabled through emerging technology such as Microsoft's HoloLens. This device sits on the users head similar to sunglasses and adds interactive 3D holograms into the real world in a fully immersive way. Similar to AR but with 3D objects and in a hands-free experience, mixed reality enables an even more vibrant way to enhance physical environments. HoloLens and similar headsets from Magic Leap are squarely in the future technology space from a consumer perspective but illustrate where the tech is headed.
MR is being heavily piloted in store planning, store operations, training and frontline-worker assist scenarios. Training examples such as using a hologram, photo and video enhanced view of a barista station to quickly be guided through operating a complicated espresso device are proving to be quite valuable.
Recommendations for retail
With customers gaining experience with AR/VR/MR solutions, they will increasingly expect to be able to use them in retail to enhance the shopping and buying experience. A key to getting started with the solutions will be to not think of AR/VR/MR as a stand-alone channel, but rather an element in a customer journey.
Our perspective needs to increasingly shift to building digital solutions that cross platform boundaries, moving seamlessly from laptop to phone to VR to store, following the customer in their journey in a frictionless way. Adding AR/VR/MR capabilities along that journey, such as to add information on demand or to visualize a product in use, will be more effective than attempting to create yet another "app" and try to drive adoption, conversion, etc.
While also enhancing the customer journey, don't underestimate the power of these technologies in enhancing the digital workplace of retail workers. Training, visualization of merchandising and planogram, remote support for front-line workers, and on-demand informational displays are all areas where retail and other industries are already deriving significant value. These solutions as elements of our digital workplaces may also end up being drivers for future customer experiences and the knowledge we gain now in implementing them will help drive that customer future as well.