We’re seeing AR, VR and AI more and more in the retail space – but can it really work seamlessly with the familiar bricks-and-mortar experience, and get customers back into shops?
It’s no secret that the high street is having to work hard to compete with online shopping. The digital space offers convenience, personalisation and choice that doesn’t always come through in store.
So how can retailers start to encourage consumers away from the Internet, and back into stores? Recently we’ve noticed some big names who’ve been elevating the shopping journey to deliver an experience that can’t be replicated or bettered online.
Nike and a spot of AR gamification
Just this month for example, Nike launched an AR game in-store in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, to increase sales of its Epic React shoes. Customers could try on the shoes, create their own avatar, then enter a virtual world by running on a treadmill. They could bounce on clouds and do all kinds of acrobatics, all while giving the shoes a good real-world try.
This fusion of the real and the virtual is the perfect antidote to filling what’s called ‘the imagination gap’ – the difficulty for consumers to visualise what owning a product might actually be like, and therefore an obstacle to purchase.
Audi’s VR showroom experience
Last autumn Audi took this to a logical level with its VR sales tool. Realising that car buyers felt so well informed by online research, they no longer had to enter a showroom – Audi introduced VR technology that lets you try out customisations before purchase.
And let’s not forget AI, the thing that will eventually signal the rise of the robot and take over the world. Just kidding. Sort of.
Smart AI mirrors in fashion stores
Some forward-thinking fashion stores have introduced AI-enhanced smart mirrors into their changing rooms, which can identify what you’re trying on, and create on-screen recommendations, with a touch screen to choose items, change lighting and temperature or summon assistance.
All these innovations are about meeting customers’ new, higher expectations – those they’ve been trained to have online. And over the next decade (or even sooner), we can expect truly radical changes in the way we shop in-store.
So what’s next?
The Internet of Things will see our fridges communicate directly with retailers when we’re about to run out of products. Biotechnology could allow us to make payments via eyeball scanning. Haptic technology will let us touch and feel virtual products.
And the whole in-store experience? That will be driven by data, to be more personalised than ever before. From the moment you walk through the door, the store will know who you are, what you normally buy, your price range. In grocery shops, your dietary needs and habits will be recognised, your shopping list will be synced with in-store algorithms and digital shelves will grab your attention and flash up personalised information as you approach.
Does that push your buttons?
The question is, are we willing to give up our anonymity and sense of agency for a smoother shopping journey?
VR and AR elevate the retail experience. Biometrics and the Internet of Things will make it easier. But Artificial Intelligence and the rise of big data take things to a new level altogether. And the answer is yes – we probably will eventually embrace it all… once it’s normalised into everyday life, and we realise through familiarity how much smoother it makes the purchase process.
After all, who thought 10 years ago that anyone would do their weekly shop through their phone?