High streets, main streets and shopping malls are struggling. That process started a long time before COVID-19 came along. This is leading growing numbers of shoppers and a shifting range of consumer demographics to the popular world of eCommerce.
While online retail brings convenience, speed and choice, there are still elements of in-person shopping that the online experience struggles to replicate. For example, being able to experience and see the product physically as it’s intended before purchasing.
This is where extended reality (XR) can enhance the next wave of online shopping. XR is the collective term for various immersive technologies including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). It also represents the future of retail, combining the ease and convenience of a digital shopping experience with the advantages of the physical retail environment. Shoppers are able to try the clothes on virtually, further enhancing the attractiveness of the world of eCommerce.
It’s important now more than ever. Now it’s time for marketing managers to embrace the benefits of these new technologies. These will foster growth in eCommerce strategies and customer engagement.
Why is XR so important to the future of retail?
Retailers today are operating in an ever-competitive landscape. As the world becomes increasingly digitised and the level of convenience offered to consumers continues to increase, it becomes harder to stand out.
Customer expectations are higher than ever, and the onus is now on retailers to provide a memorable user experience that encourages repeat customers and increased sales. XR technology provides the tools to build a greatly improved experience for the customer and leads to quicker purchases, less returns, and an improved brand efficiency. It allows consumers to create, control, and engage with a brand in a tangible environment where they can interact with your products and offerings.
How can retail brands embrace XR?
AR is an incredible bridging tool, helping to bring the world of eCommerce to life whilst retaining convenience for the consumer. Providing customers with the ability to see a product in their room is just one use. But AR also enables users to try on clothes, makeup and even take a glimpse into the future of remodelling their homes.
L’Oréal, for example, uses AI and AR technology to let consumers ‘try on’ makeup products from their devices. This is possible by superimposing the selected makeup onto an image taken from the device’s camera.
Whether or not you fully understand it, it’s highly likely you’ll have heard of ‘the Metaverse’. It’s a fully virtual world, where people can interact with each other, play, attend events and even work. What you might not be aware of is the potential opportunities the metaverse opens for retailers. It’s a big one.
According to a recent study by J.P.Morgan, $54 billion is spent on virtual goods every year. This is why a number of major brands – including Nike, Ralph Lauren and Coca-Cola – are making big investments in AR and XR tools in this area.
Fast fashion brand Forever 21 has seen significant results in this space, with a virtual store in online game platform Roblox. It was launched at the end of 2021, and sells virtual outfits for online avatars. Following its success, the brand has now created physical items to mirror those sold in the virtual store.
Virtual worlds, like the metaverse, are continuing to grow in popularity. They will soon begin to impact and change traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Those who begin using XR and AR technologies will now be able to reap the benefits of digital eCommerce. They will become part of a new virtual future of retail.
Shoppable media platforms, such as Aibuy, merge commerce with media and turn advertising into a shoppable experience. With such technology, shoppers can complete their purchase directly from an ad, social media content or a video, without having to leave the platform to complete their purchasing journey. This not only adds an interactive element to your content but also significantly shortens the traditional path to purchase. The TikTok shop is also another great example of this.
And these platforms are set to contribute to business growth. Eight in 10 businesses believe that commerce content will contribute to a larger portion of their publishing revenue in the future. 45% have seen a higher total revenue since introducing more direct-to-consumer streams.
Overcoming the XR challenges in eCommerce
The first, and likely biggest, challenge that any retailer is going to come up against is the price of including XR into their business strategy. However, the cost of implementing XR technology isn’t necessarily as high as some would like to think. Whilst VR and MR technologies require expensive equipment and a lot of development to position a brand in the digital world, AR remains relatively easier to adopt – even more so if you create a filter for a pre-existing social media.
There is also the issue of market readiness to contend with, with many retailers believing XR to be viewed as more of a gimmick than a direction for the future of their industry. But the success XR has had in boosting conversion rates is hard to argue with. As consumer interest continues to rise with 22.5% of global consumers looking to invest in a standalone VR headset over the next two years, it’s becoming more apparent that this is a trend that is set to continue.
How XR redefines the eCommerce experience
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to adopting XR into a retail strategy. But one thing is for certain, as the world of XR continues to grow, now is the time to ensure your future retail journey. Brands must consider the solutions that are right for them to integrate into your retail environment and the time and resources needed to leverage this technology. Set aside a testing budget and use it to see how different technologies will work for your brand.
Most importantly though, as brands embrace an XR future, they must stay focused on the customer experience. Don’t introduce XR technology simply because it’s on-trend. Instead, tailor any experiential solutions to solve customer problems, or enhance the customer journey.
Brands that adopt XR to add a more tangible, engaging aspect to their eCommerce and retail offerings, will resonate with consumers. You will leave them with a lasting impression of your brand that fosters loyalty, and, ultimately, business growth. Explore the future of eCommerce today.