eXtended Reality Is The Future of Shopping

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eXtended Reality (XR), comprising AR and VR, technologies has been silently disrupting the gaming industry for more than a decade. In the recent past, the tech has gained some traction in the education and training space. 

Today, however, COVID-19, with its mandates of social distancing and less to no physical interactions, has accelerated adoption for XR tech. The tech is virtual, contactless and delivers outstanding brand experiences – perfect for the new normal that multiple industries like retail will benefit from.

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5 Ways Human Behaviour Is Changing Due To COVID

Trust and confidence: People are low on trust these days. The fear-mongering mixed amid COVID news has become a daily challenge to deal with. According to Outlook India, a C-Voter nationwide survey indicates that the trust levels of Indians in social media is very low. 

Self-policing: Studies have shown that one’s behaviour in emergency situations depends on their perceived sense of security. And during the current pandemic, we are seeing unreasonable or unusual behaviour in response to what was once considered regular behaviour.

Virtual-friendly: 2020 has been the start of everything virtual. People indulge in virtual workout sessions, meetings, conferences, coffee breaks, dating, gaming, ceremonies and more. 

Companionship: While social distancing might stay, our social nature will require us to be more intentional about seeking and responding to companionship and emotional support. 

Freedom: The lockdown has morphed the meaning of freedom. People have to reimagine what freedom means within the framework of acceptable behaviour during and post the pandemic.

How Does ‘Virtual vs. Physical’ Impact Retail Consumers and Enterprises

When talking about consumers, let’s use the example of a store visit; XR is changing online shopping and making it an immersive and virtual experience. 360-degree store layouts allow consumers to explore and discover products at leisure, exactly as they would in the real world – if not enjoy a more empathetic and gamified experience.

Imagine a shopping experience where one could tag family and friends and go on a communal virtual shopping trip. While online shopping allows people to share their wishlists, immersive virtual shopping experiences definitely ups the ante. 

Add to this, the option of virtually bumping into social contacts who are shopping at the same place as you. Social alerts on their buys and a native chat application will bring us as close to the real deal as possible.

Customers can also choose to interact with store assistants. Such experiences can be designed to be akin to invested conversations with the brand. Consumers are also encouraged to make intelligent buying decisions with contextual product information like offers, reviews, sizes, colours etc. is also easily available. ThoughtWorks’ TellMeMore app tries to do just that – provide a better in-store product experience by overlaying information like book reviews, the number of pages and comparative prices beside the product (in this case; a book) view. 

Virtual Positioning Systems helps build indoor positioning applications for large premises like shopping centres, airports, train stations, warehouses, factories and more. In the case of a retail store, such a system will allow users to mark, locate and navigate to specific items on virtual shelves.

Virtual trials could easily become the norm where customers try products from fashion to makeup to cars and even houses and hotel rooms at ease and in as much detail as they’d like. And, when this is a collective experience for customers’ friends and family or even their favourite influencers – the resulting emotional connect with the retail brand is long-lasting.

Finally, adding tech like Haptics goes beyond the usual visual and hearing senses and introducing the sense of touch to customers’ shopping experiences.

For retail enterprises, one of the most obvious advantages of XR is stores being open 24/7 and 365 days a year. Enterprises also have the opportunity to personalise their VR store layouts to suit exactly what each of their customers wants to see and experience.

Instore customer journeys are difficult to track. With VR, enterprises will track who the customer is, where she spent the most time in the store, her buying habits and history, her favourite products, the influencers she follows and her usual triggers to complete a purchase. 

The collected data, thanks to AI tech, can be processed real-time for insights and used to influence the customer when she is in the store. Additionally, algorithms that determine ‘propensity to buy’ and ‘propensity for churn’ will be leveraged to help clients make quicker buying decisions. Retailers can give their customers proactive and personalised offers or discounts when they are in the VR store. As customers ‘walk’ through the store, such pop-ups will gain attention and push sales.

It’s common knowledge that customers, sometimes, defer their buying decisions because of financial situations. While most retail enterprises tie-up with financial institutions to alleviate this hesitance, the failure is in leveraging that partnership at the right moment. With XR, retailers can integrate such financial support into the shopping experience. A customer can simultaneously explore products and available EMI or other financial support options.

Not all customers, except gamers, might own Head Mounted Devices (HMD). Retail VR experiences should not limit themselves to engaging with only certain devices but should enable immersive shopping experiences through a wide spectrum of devices. This will aid customer adoption leading to explosive growth in the XR space.

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Kuldeep Singh
Kuldeep is the Head of ARVR Practice at ThoughtWorks. He has built his career empowering businesses with the Tech@Core approach. He has incubated IoT and AR/VR Centres of Excellence with a strong focus on building development practices such as CICD, TDD, automation testing and XP around new technologies. Kuldeep has developed innovative solutions that impact effectiveness and efficiency across domains, right from manufacturing to aviation, commodity trading and more. Kuldeep also invests time into evangelizing concepts like connected worker, installation assistant, remote expert, indoor positioning and digital twin, using smart glasses, IoT, blockchain and ARVR technologies within the CXO circles. Kuldeep holds a B.Tech (Hons) in Computer Science and Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra. He also spends his time as a speaker, mentor, juror and guest lecturer at various technology events aside from being a member and Co-lead Product Design and Development CoP, India at The VRAR Association.

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