By: Sarah Torgueman | Business  | 

Virtual Reality Bringing You Back to Brick-and-Mortar Retail

We are witnessing a massive shift in the retail space. Not surprisingly, technology has put an end to sluggish movement in the industry and has accelerated growth, while hundreds of retailers have plummeted and eventually disappeared altogether.

2018 has been named “The Year of Retail Bankruptcies” by Investopedia with a multitude of large retailers filing for bankruptcy and over 3,800 store closings in the United States alone, according to Business Insider. Toys R Us has shut down before our very eyes and is currently liquidating all of its 735 U.S. stores and Lord and Taylor may be right behind as it gets ready to close its flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in addition to about a dozen more locations. Gap, Michael Kors, Foot Locker, Claire’s and Best Buy have already closed hundreds of locations with plans to restructure, and others are in the process of shutting down after failed attempts to rise back up.

It’s been the topic of our conversations and, ultimately, become the norm for large brick-and-mortar retail department stores to earn negative news headlines as innovative e-commerce channels gained traction. Meanwhile, brick-and-click retailers, a term used to describe the business model where companies operate both in offline, brick-and-mortar retail locations and with clicks in online stores, have strived to keep up. While shifting to e-commerce has seemed like the best way to avoid closures and increase sales, these retailers have experienced an imbalance between their bricks and clicks. Clicks have evidently outnumbered.

Working to blend online and offline shopping, retailers have turned to technology to alleviate this imbalance, bring customers back and save their brick-and-mortar stores. What started with tablets and touchscreens at store kiosks and on the walls has grown tremendously as companies integrate technology into their brick-and-mortar stores to lure customers in.

Similar to our handy digital assistants Siri and Alexa, we’ll soon encounter digital sales associates in stores, according to Inc. Magazine. Designed to assist customers with their shopping needs as human sales associates are hired to do, digital sales associates will be programmed to focus on the individual customer’s body language to accurately read cues and identify tastes and preferences. They will have past purchases recorded, using them to predict what a customer would likely purchase next. Unlike purchase recommendations that “pop up” when shopping online, digital sales associates will recommend products by identifying cues after accurately processing customer body language, something human sales associates often err on in stores.

MAC cosmetics has brought in augmented reality mirrors, developed by ModiFace, that allow customers to virtually try on different cosmetics in stores, eliminating the unsanitary norm of sharing cosmetic applicators with others. Since the AR mirror applies the makeup on customers’ faces in the mirror in real-time and correctly applies the makeup as professional makeup artists would, it cuts down cosmetic shopping time and realistically displays a desired look, thus improving sales.

In addition to providing MAC with its AR mirror, ModiFace created a line of AR products for other beauty brands in the industry. It powered Estee Lauder’s AR e-commerce previews that allows customers to virtually try-on cosmetics on their computers, partnered with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics when it upgraded its web AR technology, and was acquired by L’Oreal in March. Its technology has been integrated into the Galaxy S9/S9+ camera and into Sephora’s AI color matching platform, as well.

Interactive hangers have been introduced in Japan with the common goal of promoting an interactive in-store experience for customers. The interactive hanger has sensors that trigger some sort of visual media to be played on a screen nearby the clothing rack such as relevant pictures and videos of the product when a customer holds it or takes it off the clothing rack. The sensors also trigger background music and lighting to change in the store when the item is held.

At select Lowe’s locations, virtual reality has been integrated to aid in the process of remodeling rooms such as a kitchen or bathroom, allowing customers to see a 3-D mock of their potential designs. Lowe’s calls the simulated room the “Holoroom,” and customers can choose room sizes and colors as well as clearly picture their space, while employees assist in the process and make changes simultaneously.

Topshop used virtual reality in stores to enable customers to virtually experience its London Fashion Week show and feel as though they were actually there. In Toms’ one-for-one campaign, in which a pair of shoes is donated for every pair sold, VR headsets were placed in stores to allow customers to see children receive boxes of shoes in a schoolyard in Peru.

Neiman Marcus has transformed its customer’s shopping experience by placing MemoMi’s MemoryMirror into its stores. MemoryMirror is a full body size screen with a camera that allows shoppers to see themselves in clothing with a 360-degree view and compare clothing options side-by-side without actually trying anything on. SenseMi Technology Solutions’ VR mirror shows how clothing will move on the customer once it’s on. To top it all off, Amazon patented an AR mirror that will dress customers in different clothes while displaying the digital 360 images in various virtual locations. The mirror will also allow an individual to walk around by controlling the lighting to maintain a realistic image.

The future may be bright for those companies that continue to creatively push brick-and-mortar retail forward. That is, those that can stay in the virtual game, of course, and move with the industry shift.