Retailers: immersive technology is no longer the future, it’s already here

It’s only been a month since we launched our guide for retailers on virtual and mixed reality. And such is the speed of evolution of the technology there have already been two more major examples of innovative uses in Australia. One being pioneered in partnership with The Butterfly Foundation, to give a first person perspective into the anguish of eating disorders. The second is an Australian University using virtual reality (VR) to teach midwifery.

With gamers and Pokémon collectors being the earliest adopters, you could be forgiven for thinking VR and augmented reality (AR) are all about giving us an escape route from the real world.

But as the examples above show, as technology improves and barriers to adoption, such as price, availability and internet speed, disappear, the use cases for these technologies change completely.

Far from taking people out of their real life situations, these technologies are being used to give us the real world, but on steroids. Whether you are trying to choose a sofa for your living room, working on innovative rehabilitation techniques for patients, or designing a new store for your customers; VR and AR, and combinations of both, are increasingly set to play a major role in your choices.

Plus we know the omni-channel customer journey begins a long time 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. There are opportunities the length of the shopping journey as well as a range of backroom solutions.

We’re still at the beginning of this journey into virtual worlds, but this technology is being used by early adopter retailers around the world. Many retailers today have experimented with immersive technology in some way, shape or form to satisfy the increasing consumer demand for novel and emotionally engaging experiences.

Our experience advising and working with retailers all over the country and globally is that most Australian retailers prefer to see how a new technology goes overseas before adopting here. However, there is an opportunity for interested and adventurous retailers in Australia to be first in providing a unique experience for their customers as part of their omni-channel approach to improving online offerings, integration and internal systems.

In terms of the prioritisation of resources and investment, our bet is that most companies will put developing a mobile friendly site to the top of their to-do list and VR or AR will rank fairly far below those priorities.

But we don’t think they should. Why? Well, the adoption of VR or AR technologies, even in some small areas of a business, can bring immediate benefits and cost savings for retailers.

So, before taking the plunge, there are six crucial questions for retailers considering the adoption of VR and/or AR:

  1. Would I roll this out as a promotional/experiential tool or could VR/AR be integrated as a central component of the experience of my customers or for managing my business?
  2. Is this the right time to invest in this technology? Can a core competency of my business be accelerated or does this sit on the fringe in a non-core area?
  3. Are the systems and processes right within my organisation to allow for a relatively straight-forward adoption?
  4. Are my customers interested, excited, or even aware of the possibilities of VR/AR?
  5. Who is the right person in my organisation to take this decision – CMO, CTO or CIO?
  6. Have my competitors, either within Australia or overseas, trialled this technology? If so, are any results available or has there been feedback from their customers?

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