These are doubtless challenging times for brick-and-mortar retailers who prove slow to incorporate new technologies in their operations. But disruption also means opportunity for those who embrace innovation and are willing to reinvent themselves in the digital age, and immersive technologies are becoming an increasingly big part of that picture. According to a number of studies, e-commerce is expected to be the number one sector for AR technologies. Smart retailers are looking to visualisation tools like 3D products, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality as a way to show off more products in less space reducing the need for square footage. Amazon, IKEA, and Wayfair are all using these technologies to bring together the advantages of online shopping with brick and mortar retailing to add value to real-world shopping experiences with a minimal learning curve for both employees and customers. In the U.S, Macy’s has introduced a Virtual Reality furniture experience allowing people to design their own living spaces, populating it with items from Macy’s extensive catalogue of products, using a VR headset to then walk around these spaces in Virtual Reality. Ikea is one retailer that shows how the combination of physical and digital space can be used successfully by providing VR as an on-site service in strategic places where it makes sense to do so, such as helping shoppers build their kitchen with a specialist and visualize it in an immersive way. In parallel they also offer AR capabilities to let customers see how items look in their own home environment with the Ikea Place mobile app. The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, has also embraced immersive technology in a wide variety of ways. They have actively explored the use of Mixed Reality technology to streamline its warehouse operations and recently integrated an AR functionality into their official app to help customers price check items quickly in store. Walmart’s most ambitious VR rollout to date, however, has been in staff training. They are scaling up their use of VR training program on the Oculus Go in a bid to offer access to such training to every one of its U.S. based employees. The opportunities that will soon be widely available with the availability of AR and VR, especially once 5G becomes widely accessible are endless. If established retailers are able to use immersive technology to energize customers and give them reasons to not only visit their stores, but make more purchases and fewer returns, this could prove a game changer for struggling high streets and provide a much-needed boost for the economy. Successful retailers need to always be at the forefront of technology so as not to be left behind, VR and AR are very much on the rise.


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