Our earlier post explored artificial reality and virtual reality companies getting large VC investments. Today, we’re looking at a collection of innovative retailers using these exciting new technologies for maximum impact on their customers. Join us for a 3-D roundup of who’s using AR / VR in showrooms, changing rooms, for in-store entertainment, product information, sales, on mobile apps and much more.
North Face has several augmented and virtual reality applications worth viewing – one is product focused and the other is entertainment. Forbes takes a look at whether virtual reality can save retail and how Samsung is pushing the boundaries in AR. In 10 locations, Macy’s is testing Macy’s On Call, an app developed by IBM and Satisfi. Craig Smith’s Retail Innovation has an excellent collection of profiles of retailers using digital innovations including augmented reality, virtual reality and more. Recommended viewing!
Marxent also has a useful set of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar examples of augmented and artificial reality used in retail. Wayfair’s new virtual reality app lets customers visualize patio furniture on a deck to help them on the path to purchase. Lowe’s Holoroom gives customers help in visualizing a new kitchen or bathroom in its popular new virtual reality room.
Whisbi highlights virtual reality storytelling by North Face and virtual test drives by Lexus. M-commerce start-up Spring launched one of the first Facebook chat bots for virtual shopping. Sephora’s new Chicago store mixes old-fashioned makeup fun with futuristic touches including augmented reality and lots of touch-screens. Best Buy is betting big on virtual reality with Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR demos and sales in-store this fall. Finally, Pokémon Go further illustrates the potential for augmented reality to drive local or in-store retail traffic in big numbers. Enjoy your roundup of these retail innovators and learn from their creativity and digital marketing savvy.
Future of Retail: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Have Big Roles to Play
One of the key areas the report highlights for retailers to be aware of today is artificial intelligence. “As tech giants have developed deep learning algorithms, big data is increasingly being used to power insights in retail that formerly would have only emerged from human intuition,” it explains.
The advantage in this surrounds being able to bring the personalized experience of physical stores increasingly into the digital world.
And the good news is that consumers want it. Research from Sonar (J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary research unit), reveals that consumers are interested in how AI will be used in retail: 70% of US millennials, and 62% of millennials in the UK, say they would appreciate a brand or retailer using AI technology to show more interesting products. Furthermore, 72% and 64%, respectively, believe that as the technology develops, brands using AI will be able to accurately predict what they want.
The North Face is one brand that has been experimenting in this space already – with a tool called the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology, which enables users to have more intuitive search experiences thanks to its natural language capability. Via forbes.com
Virtual Reality Will Save Retail
Virtual Reality (VR) is a hot topic in retail at the moment. The technology was the darling of the International CES in Las Vegas this January and Samsung recently made news not with the hardware, but with new stores designed around showcasing the experience of VR.
Last week, Samsung debuted a VR experience at select AT&T stores, where users can try on a Samsung Gear VR by Oculus and take a virtual Carnival Cruise. There’s also a sweepstakes attached so customers can enter to win a real cruise of their own.
What does this promotion for a cruise line have to do with retail? Everything.
Visitors test the new ‘Oculus VR’ virtual device at the Samsung stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 22, 2016, on the first day of the world’s biggest mobile fair. Retailers of all stripes are adopting aspects of “experiential retail,” adding everything from restaurants and cafes to more immersive experiences like the one from AT&T and Samsung.
Samsung has even stepped it up a few notches with its new New York flagship store that carries no products, but pushes experiences. The store—called Samsung 837, for its address—is created to host events. There are giant interactive screens, a kitchen, theater and a multimedia studio. It’s a facility set up to celebrate experiences, specifically the experiences created and viewed on Samsung products. VR is a part of that. Via forbes.com
Retailers look to high-tech to engage visitors to their store
The store, that basic building block of commerce, is emerging as a high-tech laboratory. All sorts of things are bubbling up – from exotica such as holograms and virtual reality to more-prosaic but potentially more-useful technology – as legacy retailers seek to merge their physical outposts with the online world.
The transformation has chains making major investments, and Kohl’s, based in suburban Milwaukee, is no exception.
In 2013, the retailer to middle America’s moms opened a technology center near San José, Calif., with a staff of more than 30. Today, some 200 people work there on e-commerce, mobile applications and further-out experiments like holographic displays using water vapor, or a “digital hanger” that, when a blouse is removed, triggers a nearby screen showing suggested coordinating items. Via gazette.com
Reference Library of Augmented/Virtual Reality Retailers | Retail Innovation
Craig Smith’s Retail Innovation website maintains an excellent library of augmented and virtual reality retail profiles for reference. It shows how fast and how far retailers and e-commerce companies have already come in adopting these new digital technologies.
Companies profiled include McDonald’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Canadian Tire, John Lewis, Adidas, Nordstrom, Ferrari, Land Rover, Sephora, Thomas Cook, Target, Lowe’s, Timberland, Apple and many others from around the world. Via Retail Innovation
Augmented Reality Retail, Video Examples| Marxent
AR retail apps can increase brand loyalty, get customers into stores more often and spark a little fun. Augmented Reality retail apps can serve both online retailers and physical stores. It’s all about creating an engaging experience.
Augmented Reality for ecommerce retailers
AR provides a new dimension to catalog and online retailers, making print shoppable and enabling interactive online features. With Augmented Reality apps, you can see a 360-degree view of products and a 3D representation in the desired space of the consumer’s home. The IKEA AR catalog is one of the best examples of using this technology to help consumers and reduce friction in the purchasing process. Online retailers can offer a printable marker to launch a similar experience and provide consumers with the same convenience as the IKEA AR catalog. Augmented Reality offers a host of shopping options for catalog and online retailers, providing an effective visualization of products and a seamless path to purchase.
Augmented Reality for brick-and-mortar retailers
The growth of online shopping and the convenience of shipping have cut into traditional brick-and-mortar stores. However, Augmented Reality can be used to give customers more reasons to visit your store. The Hess Express app and Simmons Simulator give consumers the opportunity to interact with your products and receive rewards. Hess provides easy access to store locations with an incentive to come inside to play a fun AR game and be rewarded with a free soda. Simmons gives customers an informative breakdown of their two most advanced mattresses and how they give you the best night’s sleep. AR can provide information and incentive, giving consumers the knowledge to make informed decisions. Via Marxent
Wayfair sets a place for itself at the virtual reality table
Forget trying to design your deck, patio or porch with a drawing. Wayfair LLC is setting up outdoor furniture in another dimension. The home furnishings retailer launched a virtual reality app to let consumers design an outdoor patio area. Wayfair debuted the app, Patio Playground, last week for consumers with the Oculus Rift 3-D gaming headset.
In the app consumers can arrange patio furniture in a virtual setting, see how it looks from different angles and in various types of daylight. Wayfair has 85 products for consumers to place in the patio scene, and they can place up to 15 items in the setting at one time, says Mike Festa, head of Wayfair’s research and development lab.
Consumers wearing an Oculus Rift headset can select a preconfigured patio, such as two chairs and a table with an umbrella, and then switch out the products, or they can build their patio layout from scratch, Festa says. Via Internet Retailer
Augmenting Reality in Retail: How Lowe’s, Walgreens Make Virtual Change in the Aisle
For Lowe’s, it was a virtual no-brainer.
Many people can envision a new kitchen, but few can actually visualize it – not correctly anyway. That island ends up taking more space than you thought, and the refrigerator door opens right into the entranceway.
So Lowe’s turned to virtual reality. It created the Holoroom, its self-described “digital power tool for kitchen and bath design.” Launched in November 2015, the Holoroom enables customers to design their dream kitchens or bathrooms on an app, and then, with virtual reality goggles such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, virtually step into the design. Via forbes.com
Virtual reality in retail: the next big thing or just a flame?
In the future, experts predict to see more virtual experiences such as ‘holidays’, ‘weddings’ or ‘test drives’ to promote services and products. Fashion and Automotive are two categories where virtual reality quickly caught on. Westfield mall, for example, used headsets to showcase the latest fashion collection to customers.
One of the most exciting recent examples was provided by outdoor apparel company North Face. Using virtual reality technology, they transported customers to Yosemite National Park as they were shopping at the stores. They used footage shot with 360 degree, stereoscopic 3-D cameras. The company claimed it was a great way to enhance their storytelling around a life of endless exploration.
Automotive company Lexus used Oculus Rift glasses to let people take a virtual test drive of their new models, in a much more ‘realistic’ way than a regular driving simulator. Via Whisbi
Shopping Startup Spring Launches One of First Bots on Facebook Messenger
Facebook announced the launch of its bot store during its F8 developer conference Tuesday, and m-commerce start-up Spring was one of the first businesses demonstrated using it.
The shopping app founded by David and Alan Tisch, is introducing what it calls a “personal shopping assistant” powered by Facebook’s new send/receive API.
Already live in Messenger, it operates as a very simple conversation based on a series of multiple-choice questions, much like Sephora’s chatbot, recently launched on Kik, also does.
Conversation with Spring’s bot on Messenger
“Hey Rachel! What are you looking for today?” Spring asks, before providing numerous buttons to direct your responses. That conversation continues through product category, specific products, price point you’re willing to spend, and eventually, a carousel featuring five items you might want to buy. Clicking on one opens up a shoppable page to checkout from, before it sends you back to the message thread and surfaces up your receipt. Via Forbes
Sephora opens new Michigan Avenue store in Chicago
A new stand-alone Sephora debuting on Michigan Avenue aims to mix old-fashioned makeup fun with futuristic touches including augmented reality and lots of touch-screens.
The shop at 605 N. Michigan marks the beauty retailer’s 400th North American location and 14th in the Chicago area (others are nearby at Water Tower Place and the Shops at North Bridge). But Sephora, based in Paris with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, is trying to make this location stand out.
The 10,040-square-foot store will be the chain’s fourth so-called Beauty T.I.P Workshop in the country, named after Sephora’s “Teach, Inspire, Play” mantra.
The heart of the store features a long table with 10 chairs, vanities and iPads where customers can take group classes on topics ranging from smoky eyes to contouring. There are also individual vanities for one-on-one consultations with “unbiased, brand-agnostic” makeup artists who aim to “inspire fearlessness” in customers, says Christie Jack, Sephora’s executive vice president of retail and education. Shoppers can also snap selfies of their handiwork and post them directly to a big-screen “beauty board.” Via chicagobusiness.com
Best Buy bets on VR for the holidays with 500 stores demoing Oculus Rift
Best Buy has provided in-person demonstrations for Oculus Rift basically since there were real Oculus Rift headsets to demonstrate – the retailer announced back in May it would provide demos at 48 locations in the U.S. Now, it’s doubling down on that bet, with a plan to give customers a taste of VR in 500 locations in time for the holiday shopping season, according to Bloomberg.
Lest you think Best Buy is leaning entirely on Oculus to wow consumers with virtual goodies, the retailer is also going to be running demos of PlayStation VR in 200 locations, on a rotating basis among a number of stores. Sony’s PlayStation-based offering doesn’t come out until October, however, so Oculus could be the only game in Best Buy town for at least a little while.
It’s a big deal for Oculus, since VR is definitely something that has to be experienced to impress, especially if you’re the average consumer who likely has only a passing interest in the tech to begin with. But Best Buy needs a win, and VR presents a potentially big one, especially for a big box retailer that makes up its margins in the sale of accessories. VR is partly driving a resurgence in the high-end PC market, and Best Buy is just littered with PC rig and PlayStation add-ons that could benefit from the halo effect of Rift and PSVR sales. Via techcrunch.com
Pokémon Go Showcases Augmented-Reality Explosion In Retail
One of the main effects of Pokémon Go has been to draw attention to existing AR apps, that build on current smart device functions — namely GPS and cameras. This works because the cameras allow for a view the environment in real-time, which can be “augmented” from the user’s viewpoint. AR’s potential has been recognized by retail for quite a while. For example Lego introduced an AR app a full six years ago, allowing customers to hold a box in front of an in-store monitor and see what the finished model would look like.
More recently, the online store Wayfair launched Wayfair view, allowing shoppers to superimpose potential purchases on their own space to see if the items would fit and h ow they would look. Ikea has an AR catalog app, that lets shoppers use their smartphones to virtually furnish their rooms with items from the catalog. Other apps allow customers to virtually try on shoes and clothes and in some cases share photos with their social networks.
Retailers can also use AR to enhance and tailor the customer experience. Using a specialized store app, customers can get more information about a product, its availability and potential discounts or promos. By including AR components to store displays, retailers are able to profit from the fact that their customers are often more preoccupied with their phones than the merchandise right in front of them. Apps can also direct customers to particular items, and provide a guided map to the specific shelf, something that is tremendously useful in large stores. Via twice.com
More retail innovators ahead
Our posts on e-commerce and retail innovators are among the most popular on Cashback Industry News. Watch for more posts in the near future as we highlight innovators and their success stories. Later this week, we’ll publish an update on China e-commerce and e-commerce trends in India. Don’t forget to subscribe at the top of this page if you’d like free news in your inbox every M-W-F morning.