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HOW CAN VIRTUAL REALITY IMPROVE THE IN-STORE EXPERIENCE?

Virtual reality is set to revolutionize the retail world by seducing shoppers with interactive and innovative in-store experiences. Could it be a tipping point to help retailers better compete with e-commerce giants? A look at how VR can engage customers and drive sales.

Up against the availability and ease of online retail, stores need a unique advantage to win points with demanding consumers. Fast forward to a future where retail has been dramatically transformed, letting shoppers try and use products in ways like never before to make shopping an exciting and entertaining activity.
How? Virtual reality (VR) creates an interactive, three-dimensional, fully-digital environment that stimulates the senses with layers of computerized information. This technology is quickly gaining popularity with retailers who are looking for an innovative way to gain attention from shoppers.

Shifting the shopping experience

“Using glasses or headsets, VR gives the illusion of reality to allow shoppers to visualize spaces and get detailed product information. They can handle objects that do not exist, experience dangerous situations without risk, visit distant places and transport themselves elsewhere to bring the shopping experience to life”, explains Émilie Gobin Mignot, Co-Founder of Antilogy, a consulting agency that specializes in immersive technologies.
Shoppers are ready for this shift to something new and adventurous according to a recent study that reports 70% of early tech adopters are eager to shop using VR. Émilie Gobin Mignot highlights: “VR impacts shopping in a positive way by introducing activities that can change behavior, generate commitment, trigger emotions and encourage exchanges. For in-store retail, this can translate into increased competitivity, less friction and higher customer loyalty.”

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Better buying decisions for better sales

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“VR is an effective platform to boost sales for products that take up too much space, are not available in-store or are hard to test. It influences shopper buying decisions because a sale is more likely to happen if they can try it first-hand in the store”, says Émilie Gobin Mignot.
For example, French sporting retailer Decathlon lets consumers virtually visit different tents in-store by wearing a headset to test the tent in real life situations, like in a forest or desert. They can also see tent details up close and compare it with other models. Customers were thrilled to try before deciding to buy, with over 95% recommending this new shopping experience.
Global tourism giant Club Med uses VR to make vacation planning more engaging with 360-degree tours of its resorts and activities. From beach luxury in the Maldives to mountain views in France and many others, consumers are digitally transported to the destination of their choice to decide first-hand if it meets their holiday needs. “Creating an immersive experience for travelers in the agency helped Club Med up the sales conversion rate by 12 points”, points out Émilie Gobin Mignot.
Meanwhile, North American home improvement retailer Lowe’s uses VR headsets so shoppers can virtually and safely get a feel for power tools. The VR experience serves to guide and encourage customers to finish some of the estimated $70 billion in home improvement projects that are stalled due to lack of confidence on final outcome.

Increase shopper engagement through brand awareness

“VR can also engage shoppers through brand awareness, exposing the company’s expertise to impress and intrigue consumers”, says Emilie Gobin Mignot. Adidas did just that when it introduced its outdoor apparel and accessories brand TERREX with a VR campaign that let shoppers use a headset and sensory remote controls to complete a challenging mountain alongside two extreme athletes sponsored by the sports giant. The wow-factor of the VR experience made the products – and the brand – more appealing, and customers were keen to find out more, helping grow loyalty and in-store visits.

Building VR into retail strategy

As seen by the examples above, VR is not just a gadget. It presents a great opportunity for
brick-and-mortar stores to differentiate themselves in the eyes of shoppers when built effectively into the overall retail strategy. “Retailers should focus on how they want to transform
the customer experience, define specific goals, and then choose the right equipment. Testing and experimenting with a technology partner can be a good place to start”,
suggests Émilie Gobin Mignot.
For this purpose, Antilogy and NUMA co-launched a venue called Le Pavillon earlier this year in Paris where companies can experiment, develop, test and get inspiration from nearly 450 immersive technology applications.
VR technology can also be used in retail to improve store management, staff training and logistics. Emilie Gobin Mignot says: “A major fashion brand came to us to see how immersive technology could reduce turnover. The solution was found in VR, which improved onboarding of new employees by letting them virtually visit different stores, learn the story behind the label and feel included in the corporate culture.”

Unlocking the potential of VR

Global enthusiasm is strong to see immersive technologies evolve. VR software and service revenue for retail and marketing are predicted to grow at an impressive CAGR of 102% to hit $1.8 billion 2022.
Exciting times lie ahead for the retail sector when the potential of immersive technologies is unlocked. As VR continues to push boundaries and wow consumers, smart retailers know that now is the time to invest and explore the benefits for their brand, business and customers – let’s get to work!

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