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Why haven't High-Street Retailers embraced Virtual Reality?

JULY, 2022

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Whilst it's still yet to truly take the gaming world by storm, new age tech such as augmented and virtual realities are embedded within the culture and its consumers.

However, we are still yet to see the technology explode onto the high-street despite years of reports on how these new virtual worlds would revolutionise retail as we know it. Now, that’s not to say it hasn’t scratched the surface; there are several global brands that have invested heavily, regardless of how insignificant the impact on the high-street.

As for the MetaVerse, brands continue to experiment, utilising this relatively early stage to develop awareness, engagement, loyalty and to ultimately learn what they can achieve.

Will high-street retailers be able to overcome the difficulties of implementing such high-spec technology and evolve into the new-age retail outlets of the future? Does the modern consumer even care about these realities? Especially in the aftermath of a pandemic, which has seen a resurgence of said high-street.

The AR/VR software revenue is estimated to reach $1.6 billion by 2025 which reflects the increased penetration of these technologies.
Goldman Sachs

Why is there seemingly no widespread virtual reality in the retail industry?

However, developing these technologies can be extremely time-consuming. Retailers would need to incorporate their new realities into their Omnichannel strategies prior to facing the challenges of creating AR/VR content &/or products, and that's before it's even mapped out in stores.

The skills & manpower, hardware, and software required to develop, reproduce, and display AR/VR content are quite unique and not readily available to a large range of retailers.

As we've said, one of the main reasons why we don't see the widespread use of AR & VR in the retail industry is the expense. Developing AR/VR content for omnichannel retail is steep and the process is tedious. To set up these technologies offline, businesses need to invest in headsets and motion controllers that are comfortable for customers and easy to use for the staff. The cost of the equipment is high and also their upkeep and maintenance is expensive.

Making AR and VR content development, editing, processing, and reproduction easy for unskilled users would further drive the popularity of the two technologies.

Let's explore some examples of why the modern consumer and virtual reality shopping online hasn't quite materialised yet.

Hardware & Software Attainability: VR content requires specialist configured devices which are financially costly, whilst making significant investments necessary for both content developers and what consumers subsequently experience online or instore. The majority of retailers cannot justify the high expenses of creating content, products and in store-implementation.

3D Design Content: The biggest challenge faced by AR and VR is the depth of expertise required to design engaging content and experiences. The process is both expensive and time-consuming. Virtual landscapes must not incur side effects such as eye strain and sound disorientation.

Lack of Consumer Convenience: VR is available to consumers only on select devices such as HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and Oculus VR. It serves a niche market rather than the mainstream. Not all VR devices on the market are able to offer the immersive experience the average VR user expects. This could potentially hurt the retail experience of a potential customer.

Flawless Connection Requirements: To connect to AR or VR via smart phone devices, customers need a relatively fast internet connection like 5G where applicable. A slow connection can impair user experience, so it's futile for retailers to integrate these technologies if customers cannot use them across POS/touchpoints.

Where art thou, MetaVerse Retail?

There is potential for retail in the metaverse to make online shopping far more engaging and useful once the technology has advanced. Developing software that would allow consumers to discover engaging content and products that effectively replicates the in store experience online will herald the age of V-Commerce.

Once V-Commerce is mainstream, the process of converting visitors into customers could potentially make online retail a far more viable, and valuable business outlet. It would also likely have a detrimental impact on physical stores.

Although, its success and widespread adoption will depend on how easy it is to use and how effective it becomes as a POS. At present, it’s still largely acknowledged (maybe unfairly) as a gimmick utilised by the 'super-brands' in cahoots with Meta.

Retailers will consider the MetaVerse as a channel for selling, but not the the primary outlet. Like social media stores, a MetaVerse store will have a sales role, but it'll be another important cog in an omnichannel strategy to reach consumers across an exciting new retail channel.

For retailers to succeed in the MetaVerse, it has to make your retail experiences even better, cheaper, faster whilst maintaining the social experience we crave within physical stores. The MetaVerse, along with the general notion of V-Commerce, will eventually be the next step in retail, and like the evolution of the internet, it will present brand-new opportunities and risks for all retailers (well, those who can afford it).

What have we seen so far within in-store digital realities?

If utilised correctly, AR devices such as smart mirrors can offer experiences far more engaging than shopping online, and far deeper than the analogue experience we’re accustomed to in-store.

Within certain physical retail stores, customers can admire themselves in “smart mirrors” that enable users to flick through different outfits at will, before entering a virtual reality “holo-room” to test products in 3D.

Smart mirrors can take pictures of a shopper in an outfit, compare two different looks side by side, show front, side and back together, or switch the colours without having to change clothes.

Why haven't High-Street Retailers embraced Virtual Reality?

With strictly bricks-and-mortar retailers still facing stiff competition from online retailers, a new generation of “clicks and mortar” shops will offer incredible hi-tech experiences, using apps, augmented and virtual reality devices, along with artificial intelligence to piece together wardrobes in what will become the ultimate retail experience of V-Commerce.

Clothing retailers like Topshop and Gap have both unveiled demos of augmented reality within changing rooms. It's a matter of time until the modern consumers get to experience this for themselves on a larger scale with their favourite brands.

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Bricks & Mortar Stores vs. Online Retail: How to combine online and offline experiences to improve shopping for your customers

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