With commercial  potential.

The integration of immersive technology, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is about to become the new gold standard for omni-channel retail and brand experiences, according to Deloitte. But far from taking people out of their real life situations, these technologies are being used to give us the real world, but on steroids,  in response to consumer demand for novel and emotionally engaging experiences.

In its latest series of retail trends, in the aptly titled paper: How much is that virtual doggie in the virtual window?  Deloitte outlines what retailers need to know before diving into the immersive technology pool to find out how VR and AR can deliver results for a business, its brand and customers.

According to Deloitte Retail, Wholesale & Distribution group national leader, David White, immersive technology is becoming better, more affordable and more ubiquitous, and customers are interested in it. “Smart retailers are paying attention to where their customers are looking in an effort to provide the best possible experience for them,” White said. “While we’re still at the beginning of this journey into the virtual world, many retailers globally have experimented with immersive technology in some way.”

As virtual and augmented reality technology rapidly improves, analysts predict the retail industry may be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Brands are seeking to use VR and AR both for direct sales opportunities and to enrich the consumer brand experience.

Technology is dramatically changing the retail landscape, Deloitte Spatial & Brand Experience leader, Robbie Robertson said. “And the most successful adopters of VR and AR will be retailers who use the technology to enhance their relationship with customers, rather than replace it,” he said.

“We know the omni-channel customer journey begins long before customers enter the store and extends way beyond the purchase experience. While the decision to purchase a product is often made before the customer even enters the store, the moments-of-truth within the customer journey are becoming more frequent, subtle and often go undiscovered by marketers, retailers and sales staff alike. Immersive technologies have the potential to transform these blind spots into meaningful interactions, targeted conversations and data-driven decision making.”

Robertson said Australian retailers often prefer to see how a new technology goes overseas before adopting it here. “However, there is an opportunity for interested and adventurous retailers in Australia to be first to provide a unique experience for their customers as part of their omni-channel approach by improving online offerings, integration and internal systems.”

According to Deloitte there are numerous points when AR/VR can tap into the shopping journey as well as offering a range of backroom solutions and these include:

  • Pre-planning shopping trips – helping customers make more informed purchases as they visit stores and increase the buyer conversion rate by using VR to give shoppers a view into a signature bricks-and-mortar space from anywhere in the world
  • In-store engagement – assisting customers navigate a store, find or receive product information in-store and gain store incentives or rewards as they shop
  • Product customisation – allowing customers to visualise what a product might look like in different scenarios
  • Store, centre and warehouse planning – improving shop floor navigation as well as improving retail zoning and the management of inventory and stock
  • Training workshops – helping staff adapt to new processes, spaces or products by experiencing them in a virtual test scenario first

Worldwide revenues for the VR/AR market is predicted to grow from US$5.2 billion in 2016 to more than US$162 billion in 2020. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 181.3% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.  Tech companies that have already invested in AR and VR  include Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung and IBM.