virtual reality

Not really true

28. February 2017, MAXFIVE

Shopping in supermarkets that don’t actually exist. Or furnishing a flat, even though the furniture is still in the store. Virtual and augmented reality make almost anything possible. And shopping more exciting again.


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augmented reality
virtual reality

We used to look at friends askance when they turned on their TV console to dive into an unreal world. Nerds. Today, virtual and augmented realities are the future of retail. And thanks to our smartphones, we’re always at the edge of reality anyway. Because 87 percent of us use our mobile phones to search for products and get information about them before we go shopping. 79 percent even use them while shopping, and more than a third tell the world about their shopping trips afterwards by sharing their experiences with others online. So it only makes sense for retailers to link their offers even more through smartphones, tablets and virtual reality glasses as a way of creating new shopping experiences.


What’s special about future developments, which is already becoming evident today, is the use of virtual reality (VR) or its younger sibling, augmented reality (AR). While VR simulates the entire store location, AR mixes the real world with the unreal world. There was a perfect example of this in 2016: Pokémon Go. The trend also indicates customers’ willingness to accept such new offers – and studies have proven this. Almost half of more than 1,000 people surveyed between the ages of 19 and 49 said they were “very interested” in VR. Even Goldman Sachs is projecting big profits for the industry as a whole. The market is expected to be worth $80 billion by 2025 – that’s less than ten years away. That would be comparable to today’s desktop PC market.

Without the VR app, people see an empty car park. Activate the app and the entire supermarket can be virtually explored.

Virtual and augmented reality lower the number of returns because the product can be virtually tested as if in reality before it is purchased.

The advantages for customers and retailers are promising. For the latter, investments will be required in areas such as software, hardware, commissioning and ongoing costs, but other expenses can be saved at the same time. The largest online supermarket in China, Yihaodian, does not have actual stores, but it does have branches that can be visited. That’s because Yihaodian has opened one thousand virtual shops in empty spaces or popular locations. When the retailer’s app is launched in one of these places, a complete food store appears on the screen, the virtual aisles can be walked down, products put into the shopping basket by tapping on the picture, and then everything is delivered to the customer’s home. Yihaodian’s augmented reality saves rental costs for stores, there are no problems of space, and customers get a new and exciting service. They benefit from shorter journeys because, theoretically, stores can pop up on any street corner. AR can also be very beneficial on a smaller scale, as demonstrated by American Apparel and IKEA.

The real shopping experience can’t be replaced - but it can be expanded.

The largest challenge when buying furniture is trying to imagine the new sofa in one’s own lounge. Does it really fit the empty space? Does it go with the other furniture? The Swedish furnisher IKEA has the answers to precisely these questions. With a printed catalogue and AR app, beds, wardrobes and clothing racks suddenly appear in the flat. The objects can even be moved, turned and shown in a variety of colours. Practical. And it means fewer returned products for IKEA, more efficient logistics and lower accompanying costs. This should reduce total returns by up to 23 percent for retailers.

In contrast, the American Apparel app is used in-store by holding a smartphone up to an article of clothing. In response, detailed information about the product appears. Here, too, customers can have various colours and version shown. If the jumper desired is currently not in stock, it can still be purchased over the app. And a few days later, the package arrives.


In the fashion sector, AR and VR seem to offer particularly many possibilities. No one, for instance, likes to queue up for the in front of the changing room, or try on five different pairs of jeans just to see if one fits the way it should. It would be much better to try things on virtually with just one click. Ideally at home and on a Sunday afternoon, when there’s nothing else to do. It should be clear that this deceptively realistic feeling of home shopping can never replace a real shopping trip. AR and VR are simply additional offers that can help us take decisions or make our everyday life a bit easier. The German car maker Audi sees it this way as well. Marcus Kühne, the company’s project leader for virtual reality, thinks that visiting a car dealer must be made more attractive for customers, and that this can be achieved with VR. Since 2013, Audi has therefore been using virtual reality technology which has cost the company a five-digit sum. Fifty different models and millions of different equipment variants can be shown to potential car buyers on site. The dream car can be conjured up in seconds, and the paint job or gadgets can be changed just as quickly. Special editions in particular have sold very well with the VR glasses. And remember: The technology will continue to develop. In three years from now, we can expect to be using glasses that work with wireless technology and don’t need a computer. AR and VR will also become increasingly available for private use. Simply because the range of applications is so varied. Almost limitless, you could say. Last year, for example, Samsung sent its customers on a virtual cruise to advertise its new VR glasses. Participants were able to win a real cruise as well. All they needed for that was pair of good old-fashioned sunglasses!

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