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How Augmented and Virtual Reality Experiences Can Reengage Retail Shoppers

Tony Scherba
November 21, 2017

Remember when Pokemon GO reached 40 million users in one week? For virtual and augmented reality, it was the shot heard 'round the world.The augmented reality app's success reverberated beyond the smartphone world and throughout the retail galaxy.

Just how much, exactly, do consumers want augmented and virtual reality in their retail experiences? Industry researcher Retail Perceptions recently found that 40 percent of shoppers would pay more for a product they could experience through augmented reality, while 61 percent would rather do business with shops offering augmented reality than those that don't.

Brands from Lowe's to Nike to Amazon have wasted no time answering customers' call. Yeti's own 2016 surveyof more than 100 product developers found that 53 percent already had a virtual reality project underway, and 15 percent more had planned to start a project within three months.

Why the rush? Retailers live and die by the customer experience, so it's little wonder why they're diving headlong into augmented and virtual reality product development.

Retail's New (Virtual) Reality

If your brand wants to delight customers and empower them to shop worry-free worldwide, virtual and augmented reality experiences are the answer. To use the technologies effectively, try one or more of these five popular applications:

1. Digitize the dressing room.

What keeps big-spending Baby Boomers from shopping for clothes online? The problem, at least for 80 percent of them, is the inability to see and touch apparel products. For brick-and-mortar retailers forced to shut stores, that's a problem.

How did GAP, which has closed more than 300 stores in the past two years, solve it? The apparel brand built an app-based virtual dressing room that allows shoppers to enter their height and weight, select from five body types, and try on products in 3D.

2. Give try-before-you-buy apps a try.

Now more than ever, shoppers want personalized products. That's why Nike has baked augmented reality into its NikeID customization shoe service.

The athletic brand recently partnered with SmartPixels to create an augmented reality app for its Paris store, which shows shoppers what a shoe looks like in any color. When a shopper trains the device on a shoe, it projects a lifelike hologram onto the actual product. Unfortunately, you'll need to travel to the City of Lights to see the app in action.

3. Get personal.

Buying makeup online is a dangerous game. Every skin tone is different, so your friend's favorite foundation could make you look like a Picasso.

Fortunately, Sephora has developed an in-your-face solution for online shoppers who prefer to be pampered at the cosmetics counter. By layering facial recognition and augmented reality technologies, Sephora's app duplicates the in-store experience. It estimates how different products will look on shoppers' faces and provides step-by-step makeup tutorials customized to any face shape and skin tone.

4. Make the most of mirrors.

Once the stuff of sci-fi fairy tales, augmented reality-infused mirrors have started to show up in the real world. Just as e-commerce sites suggest similar products to shoppers, Oak Labs has developed a sensor-stuffed dressing room mirror that reads garment RFID tags to spot what shoppers are trying on. It then displays suggested accessories on a touch screen embedded in the mirror.

Fashion brands Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren are currently testing the technology to boost sales and infer missing or incorrect product details. For example, the mirror's data showed Rebecca Minkoff that half the customers who tried on a leather jacket purchased a smaller size, suggesting a fit issue with the product.

5. Cook up an interactive catalogue.

When remodeling a room, it's tough to visualize the space before it's finished. A sink may look great in the store, but how about in your home? To solve the problem, furniture giant IKEA recently introduced a 3D kitchen-building tool.

How does it work? Shoppers can enter their kitchen dimensions and then try different cabinets and furnishings to see how they look. Lighting, molding, faucets, handles, and more are all customizable, which increases IKEA's share of the remodel project while simplifying the buying process. When the design is finished, the program generates a complete shopping list and, voila, a new kitchen!

More now than ever before, people expect the shopping experience to be mobile and personal. That's led online marketplaces to displace brick-and-mortar stores.

But with augmented and virtual reality, retailers can tip the scales. Shoppers in stores will try products available only online, while online shoppers can confidently buy in-store staples like clothing and makeup. Today, it isn't just possible to have the best of both worlds; it's the new reality.

Is your retail brand ready to explore new worlds with augmented and virtual reality? Make sure to drop us a line!

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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