The retail world has changed drastically in recent years. For some time now, digital shopping experiences have been growing more appealing to the wider consumer market. Many businesses have been forced to embrace a “hybrid” approach to sales, where they can interact with, support, and serve their customers both offline and online.
XR (Extended Reality) solutions provide retailers with a unique ability to enhance the buyer journey for their target audience. Retailers can use VR to interact with buyers and give them demonstrations of complex products. AR solutions can help us visualize what products might look like in real-world scenarios. Even mixed reality opens the door to better brand/consumer interactions.
However, while in 2020, there were already 1 billion people using XR, leading to 94% higher conversion rates for some products, only around 1% of retailers were investing in the landscape. In today’s post-pandemic world, taking advantage of XR could help retailers to achieve their goals.
The Potential for XR in Retail and Ecommerce
The market for XR is growing at a fantastic rate of 57.91% per year, according to today’s valuations. All kinds of companies, including manufacturing brands, enterprises, and engineering facilities are taking advantage of the innovative experiences this landscape can offer. Retailers and e-commerce brands are no exception.
Through Extended Reality, retail sellers can provide their customers with behind-the-scenes insights into the products and services they want to purchase. AR tools can create 3D versions of items for customers to “try” before they buy. VR technology allows for more immersive user manuals, demonstrations, and onboarding processes. Some of the most significant benefits of XR in retail and ecommerce may include:
- Increased profits and lower returns: XR solutions give customers more opportunities to test the products they might want to purchase from e-commerce stores, without seeing the item in person. This can remove some of the frictions which might otherwise prevent a consumer from completing a transaction. More importantly, for retailers and e-commerce companies who don’t have items in-stock to show a customer, XR solutions can reduce returns, by giving customers a clearer idea of what they can expect to receive.
- Employee training: As consumer expectations continue to evolve, and buyers become increasingly more demanding, business leaders need to ensure they are constantly “upskilling” and “reskilling” their staff with the correct information. Virtual reality training sessions can help employees to develop some of the soft skills they need to enhance customer satisfaction. Business leaders can train their teams on how to deal with complex interactions in an immersive and realistic format.
- Enhanced collaboration: The average e-commerce or retail environment is brimming with a host of different employees from versatile backgrounds. Some team members are responsible for dealing with customers on the shop floor, while others are involved in product research and development, or sales. All of these staff members need to be able to work together cohesively to generate success. XR solutions can bring teams together in immersive environments where they can bond and share ideas.
- Improved customer experience: With XR solutions, companies can build powerful, unique, and immersive experiences for their customers, designed to boost loyalty and sales. A company releasing a new version of a product could allow VIP or loyal customers to test it in virtual reality before it arrives on store shelves. The same company could provide step-by-step guidance to companies purchasing complex equipment, so they can generate success from their purchases much faster.
- Greater innovation: Retailers and e-commerce companies need to work consistently on developing and enhancing the products they sell. This means bringing members of staff from the product development, research, sales, and marketing teams together to come up with ideas. The right XR solution can pave the way for better marketing and sales strategies, more lucrative products, and better overall customer experience.
Trends Driving XR in Retail and Ecommerce
Already, a number of retailers and e-commerce experts are beginning to experiment with different forms of extended reality to delight and engage their audience. Notably, around 40% of shoppers generally say they would pay more for a product if they could experience it in XR first.
Creating VR experiences, or AR/MR applications gives ecommerce and retail companies a new way to differentiate themselves from the competition and drive loyalty. It can also help to significantly boost collaboration and employee engagement, while keeping returns and costs to a minimum. Some of the major trends pushing the rise of XR in retail include:
- The Metaverse: The concept of the metaverse has generated significant excitement among companies and consumers alike. Promising a unique environment where people can purchase virtual products, interact with brands, and connect with loved ones, the metaverse will change how we connect with the digital landscape. For retail and e-commerce companies, it could present an opportunity to build digital versions and storefronts for customers to explore. Plus, there’s the option to access new forms of revenue through NFTs.
- AI and analytics: To continue delighting customers in an evolving ecosystem, business leaders in the retail and e-commerce space need to collect as much data about their audience as possible. XR solutions with built-in eye tracking and movement sensors can assist with gathering useful data about what captures customer attention. It may also be possible for retailers to use the information collected by headsets and devices to determine why customers do or don’t purchase certain products.
- 5G connectivity: The “hybrid” shopping environment is becoming more popular in today’s post-pandemic world. Consumers are searching for a unified online and offline experience, which prioritizes personalization and convenience. With 5G connectivity and XR devices, companies could allow their customers to test out products and explore different items without having to physically interact with assets on a shelf. This could even reduce hygiene and health-based concerns in physical commerce.
- Hyperpersonalization: As customers continue to search for more relevant and engaging shopping experiences, the XR landscape also allows business leaders to deliver a unique experience to each consumer. With an XR environment, virtual assistants, and digital twins of assets, companies can guide clients through the process of shopping for the perfect item from anywhere. Clients can try on clothes, learn how to use different tools or assets, and visualize what everything might look like in 3 dimensions.
Exploring the Future of XR in Retail and Ecommerce
As the shopping landscape continues to transform, extended reality could prove to be an incredible tool for increasing conversions, customer loyalty, and sales opportunities. Many retailers and e-commerce brands are already experimenting with AR apps, VR environments, and mixed reality experiences. As XR becomes more accessible and affordable, we’re likely to see it emerging as an essential part of the shopping interaction.