Setting can make all the difference – have you ever bought something just because you liked the shop? Or perhaps you bought something on holiday, believing you’ll wear or use it all the time, only to get back and wonder what on earth you were thinking?
VR will let retailers be much more adventurous with their virtual stores than they could be with the physical limitations of a real store. If a customer was browsing through the swimwear section, they could be transported to a sun-drenched resort in the Mediterranean. Then they might look at coats and their surroundings would switch to a frosty autumnal forest, making them feel that maybe they should splash out that extra bit because it just feels right.
With the help of big data, a virtual store could be personally tailored for each individual, based on their likes, browsing history and what’s trending among their demographic. A huge retailer like Amazon could present itself as a trendy boutique that only stocks things you’re likely to buy.
These seductive VR stores haven’t quite taken off yet, but retailers have been using AR for a while. For example, sponsored filters wrap over a hundred million daily Snapchat users in a Coca Cola scarf, or place Rayban sunglasses on their faces. Apps appear to be the immediate future of virtual shopping, especially with the ARKit in Apple’s latest iOS 11 update making it easier than ever for developers to build AR into apps.
IKEA recently launched their Place app, which superimposes a 3D rendering of their products into your room so you can see how it will look and where it will fit without having to take it home and build it yourself. Most of AR’s promise is about reducing shopping’s petty grievances. Soon, you’ll be able to see yourself in endless outfit combinations without having to physically try anything on.
This will doubtless come as a relief to any partner that’s been left waiting outside a changing room, but will it really revolutionise shopping?
The two main unknowns that deter people from shopping online are the quality of the product and the fit. Virtual shopping can’t answer the first, and won’t always answer the second. Granted, as long as the dimensions are correct, an IKEA table will look the same in real life, but clothes are dependent on body shapes. It will be in retailers’ interests to make the clothes appear as flattering as possible, so AR visualisations should be taken with a pinch of salt – just like Snapchat’s sponsored filters, which always make your skin smoother and face thinner.
AR isn’t going to completely stop people from going to real shops. In fact, the technology has a lot of potential to improve the in-store experience. For example, you could hold your smartphone camera up to a supermarket aisle, and an AR app could highlight which items are on your shopping list, or any special offers. AR call-outs could suggest accessories that would go well with a particular item, and then lead you to where they are.
Best of both
AR and VR aim to bridge the gap between digital and the real world. If you prefer shopping in real life, soon you’ll be able to have some of the added bonuses of online shopping superimposed onto the experience. If you prefer to shop from home, now you can see (more or less) how an item will fit into your life. The technology won’t solve everything, but it will make shopping a whole lot easier.