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Virtual & Augmented Reality Technologies: Reimagining & Actualizing the Retail Experience <br> (Part 3)


The technologies that underpin virtual and augmented reality allow retailers to meld the best attributes of their physical and online stores using a single computing platform.

While an abundance of digital platforms and applications (omnichannel, e-commerce, next-gen payment systems, near field communications and beacons) have surfaced in recent years, none have managed to grab the spotlight since the smartphone inserted itself into the hearts and minds of our culture. Until now. 

Virtual and augmented reality provide an opportunity for retailers to transform the shopping experience and redefine commerce as we know it. Virtual reality (VR) replicates real-world situations in which a person can interact and react (think gaming). Augmented reality (AR) takes that experience one step further by overlaying computer-generated sensory input (sound, touch, hearing, smell and taste, for example) “on top” of a real-time environment. No longer limited to shopping online or in brick-and-mortar stores, consumers can enter the virtual universe and become part of a real-time, all-inclusive shopping environment. 

It’s no surprise that tech giants are pouring billions of dollars into VR and AR-based hardware and software. Apple just announced its intention to take augmented reality to the next level.

In March, Facebook revealed it was shipping Oculus Rift to more than 20 countries and regions. Google’s sizable stake in Magic Leap is paying off, and Microsoft’s HoloLens represents the first, fully self-contained holographic computer

VR/AR Tools & Devices

Retailers looking to capitalize on the promise of virtual and augmented reality should explore and become familiar with the following: 

  • Head-mounted displays (HMD) require a computer screen integrated into the unit. 

  • Head-mounted displays for mobile use a third-party mobile device as the screen.

  • Hand-held controllers track a person’s hand and/or body movements using sensing technologies. 

  • Input/output devices can include multimodal gear like wired gloves and omnidirectional treadmills.

  • Haptic devices sense a person’s hand and body movements and utilize tactile feedback from force or vibration. 

  • 3-D cameras capture stereoscopic, 360-degree views from a video or image-recording device.

  • End-to-end VR platforms combine head-mounted systems with input devices and motion capture to afford a completely immersible, contextually relevant experience. 

  • AR platforms enable users to actually visualize ideas beyond two-dimensions.

Below is an interactive graphic highlighting head-mounted devices on the VR/AR radar. Given the pace of HMC development, more will come. For example, mobile HMDs now include Durovis Dive, Google Cardboard and Homido. More recent market entrants are the Samsung Gear VR and the Carl Zeiss VR One.

Simply hover your cursor over the chart to zoom in on the evolving HMD landscape.  

Major Retailers Stake Their Claim

Major retail brands are already using VR and AR technologies and tools to give their customers a new kind of shopping experience. Among them:

  • Nike just introduced the 3-D version of Kobe Bryant’s Kobe 11 signature shoe.

  • Loew’s Virtual Room Designer allows customers to view 3-D renderings of a room renovation online, then “enter” their reimagined space using a tablet and 3-D technology.  

  • The North Face and Jaunt partnered to offer store customers a truly immersive experience “within” national landmarks and parks via 360-degree, stereoscopic 3-D cameras and advanced 3-D sound field microphones.

  • Sephora, the leading global beauty retail chain, recently launched Sephora Virtual Artist, the latest addition to its Sephora to Go mobile app. Using their smartphone, shoppers can select lipstick shades from thousands of brands and see exactly how the colors would look on them, from wherever they are.

  • Verizon invites customers in select stores to experience and participate in an NFL game, aided by a Samsung VR headset and an oversized football helmet. “Players” can enter the field, rush with their team, receive a kickoff, run for the gold post and get tackled while feeling the thunder of the crowd.

Looking to the Future

Although virtual and augmented reality have yet to become “business as usual” in the retail sector, we believe that time is of the essence for companies looking to get a head start. 

Our dedicated UX lab – supported by our core team of retail consultants, IT specialists, interaction developers and architectsis helping clients worldwide develop, prototype and deploy VR and AR technologies, and overcome the challenges of doing business in the age of digital. 

To find out more, please read this article’s accompanying pieces, Virtual & Augmented Reality in Retail: The Store is Open and Virtual Reality & The Retail Experience. We also invite you to read our white papers, The Digital Retail Theater: Shopping’s Future and Disrupting Reality: Taking Virtual & Augmented Reality to the Enterprise.

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