In today’s digital era, consumer expectations are constantly evolving, putting more pressure than ever on retailers to up-level the customer experience. To keep up with industry demands, stay ahead of competition and ensure brand loyalty, many retailers are looking to innovative solutions to redefine business processes.
Recently, we’ve seen many top-name retailers implement a variety of technology platforms to transform their entire supply chains — from the front end to the back office. Two of the most powerful offerings include augmented realty (AR) and virtual reality (VR). According to recent research, the AR and VR market is predicted to reach $215 billion by 2021. As the technologies continue to develop, retailers are finding new ways to leverage their capabilities, transforming how consumers visualize products, how retailers complete the manufacturing processes, how companies deliver orders in a fast and efficient manner and more.
Consumer Shopping Experience
In this highly competitive landscape, it’s crucial that retailers implement innovative solutions to attract potential consumers and heighten the overall shopping experience. While some consumers prefer to shop in-store, many choose to browse online or purchase items through mobile apps. Thus, it’s imperative that retailers invest in technology, such as AR and VR, that will provide more convenient, personalized and enjoyable shopping journeys across all channels.
Today, many retailers are turning to AR and VR to remove visualization barriers and help consumers make more informed, confident purchase decisions, no matter where they choose to shop. Retail giant Wayfair, for example, understands the power of the technology. Wayfair offers an AR feature on its mobile app that allows customers to visualize furniture and décor directly in their homes before completing a purchase. Similarly, Target recently added AR capabilities to its web site, letting consumers view home furnishings products in AR to see if they’re the right look and fit from the comfort of their own homes.
In addition, Gap released its DressingRoom app last year, which uses AR to let shoppers “try on” clothing without having to set foot in a store. The platform projects a 3D model — specific to the shopper’s identified height and weight — on a screen, allowing consumers to see how different products would fit and also purchase items directly through the app. Sephora’s Virtual Artist app is another example of a retailer providing a next-level 3D experience, as it allows consumers to try on a variety of beauty products virtually and get inspired by looks created by the Sephora team.
While many companies are developing their own proprietary technology, Apple’s and Google’s recent moves into the AR space are helping many retailers create AR-based apps faster and easier than ever before. With both ARKit and ARCore, AR technology is now at the fingertips of millions of consumers, presenting endless new opportunities for retailers to create interactive experiences and redefine the overall shopping experience.
While the crux of retail lies in the front office, companies can no longer only focus on improving the in-store and online experience. They must also consider how to enhance efficiencies in their back-end operations, such as manufacturing, warehousing and delivery — and AR is proving to be the perfect solution.
As new technology continues to be developed, consumers now expect retailers to understand their needs, provide trendy items and be able to fulfill orders immediately. While many companies are using big data and advanced analytics to identify preferences and inform merchandise, retailers won’t be successful if they can’t stock their shelves with the right products in a timely manner. However, AR and VR technology is eliminating that issue. Furthermore, these technologies also allow retailers to easily and efficiently showcase every color and texture variation of each product in their catalog.
With sophisticated AR and VR visualization tools, retailers are able to monitor consumer shopping behaviors and track conversions to identify trends and reassess strategies. In addition, retailers can now streamline manufacturing processes with the help of AR, as companies can overlay instructions and other helpful details on the production line to improve worker performance, and ultimately, the rate at which products are available for consumers. Some retailers also are using AR to transform their picking processes in their warehouses. With the technology, workers are able to see the most efficient routes, indicated by a line projected on the floor, increasing productivity and overall accuracy.
As the industry undergoes this period of unprecedented digital transformation, it’s clear retailers must adjust their business strategies to keep up with ever-growing consumer demands and deliver a premium shopping experience. Competition across the industry is at an all-time high, and the companies that don’t leverage the many benefits of AR and VR in some capacity are at a significant risk of being left behind.
As the technology continues to become mainstream, the next essential step retailers need to consider is the development of 3D content to serve and feed the AR and VR use cases. To avoid being surpassed by competition and experience a decline in sales, retailers must virtualize their 2D product catalogs into dynamic 3D assets, as scalable modeling solutions will enable retailers to remain on the cutting edge. As the AR and VR markets continue to grow, retailers should embrace the power of this new technology to transform the consumer experience, and leverage the positive effect it has on the supply chain.