The popularity of online shopping has forced retailers to re-evaluate the experience they want to give their customers, and making better use of technology could be the answer to getting ahead of the competition.
The emergence of mixed and augmented reality is allowing retailers to offer customers an entirely new shopping journey, while blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds.
While virtual reality is perhaps the most known of these visualisation technologies - mostly due to its success in the gaming and leisure industries - from a business perspective, innovators and company owners are starting to realise the great potential mixed and augmented reality could offer.
Using these platforms, consumers can now place and preview real products in a 3D image, like their own room, to see exactly what products will look like before they spend any money.
Research has already identified a problem known as the "imagination gap" - when consumers don't buy products because they can't imagine what they'll look like when they get home - but has also shown that consumers are more likely to make a purchase after using an augmented or mixed reality platform.
Improving online shopping experiences
Visualisation technology is still in its infancy but this means there is opportunity for innovative retailers across all sectors - from home décor to clothing - to get ahead of the market and shape the future direction of these platforms.
In instances when this technology has been implemented, it has mostly been used as an in store experience. In a successful trial we carried out with John Lewis, customers were invited to bring pictures of a room they were decorating and then use the technology to place new furniture, or change the wall and floor coverings.
However, from a consumer standpoint, the real potential of these technologies is when it is implemented directly onto a retailer's website, allowing consumers to engage with the platforms in their own homes.
Enabling customers to upload a picture of a room and then redecorate directly on the screen is one of the reasons mixed and augmented reality is becoming a more interesting prospect for retailers and we expect to see more of this technology online in the near future.
An "undo" button for online retail
The main benefit of mixed and augmented reality is that they enable the user to place virtual products - taken from a retailer's catalogue - into an image of the real world. Not being able to visualise what products will look like at home has always been a major hurdle for consumers and, up to now, is a problem retailers have been unable to help them with.
From a retailer's perspective, this imagination gap represents a real commercial threat, with 40% of consumers being so scared of making the wrong decision on a retail purchase they decided against spending money at all, according to our research.
Visualisation technology has now created an "undo" button for retail, with customers able to preview products and instantly delete the design decisions they don't like - without having to spend a penny.
Increasing "shareability" in retail
The immersive experience and "shareability" aspect of these technologies can also make a positive impact to the consumer's experience and, as a result, brand image.
Again, the home décor market is a prime example of how this aspect of sharing ideas can benefit consumers. Using these platforms, customers can actually save their design ideas and share them with friends and family to get feedback before making a purchase.
With 20% of consumers saying they would prefer to get a second opinion on a purchase before spending any money, this is the ideal kind of technology for brands to be offering.
The changing state of immersive shopping
Retail is undoubtedly undergoing a technology revolution, the speed of which is constantly increasing. Brands, which are only just realising the need for mobile shopping platforms, are now trying to bring on new technology to enhance their customers' experience.
The key to engaging customers with this type of technology will be finding the right platform to bring this technology to customers, and ensuring the user experience remains central in the offering. Bringing this technology into a wearable solution could be one avenue we see more of heading into the next decade.
Imagine wearing a stylish set of glasses that allowed you to manipulate and change aspects of your environment, hands free, from your own home.
It may not be too long before that becomes a reality.
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