As new technologies continue to become both more advanced and more prevalent, their applications expand. Consumers are now eagerly using smartphones, tablets and other devices for shopping, research, leisure and virtually every other activity imaginable. Business leaders widely recognized that they must embrace these possibilities, or else they will inevitably fall behind their more technologically sophisticated competitors. Among the most significant upcoming trends when it comes to retail, according to the San Jose Mercury News, is virtual reality.
The news source suggested that virtual reality will soon play a major role in many consumers’ shopping experiences, and a number of companies are already taking steps to prepare for this development.
Virtual reality in real life
According to the news source, virtual reality will likely become common once wearable computing devices, such as Google Glass, become widely popular. Customers equipped with such units will be able to see coupons, nutrition statistics and other information pop up before their eyes as soon as they view a given product. This information will also soon become visible to shoppers using tablets as they walk through the aisles.
While these capabilities have not arrived yet, they will soon, according to industry experts. The news source reported that major companies such as Walmart, Target and Tesco are already experimenting with the use of 3D computer simulations that can add visual and audio effects to enhance the real-world shopping experience.
One particular example of such experimentation, according to the news source, could be found in Bloomingdale’s. The clothing retailer recently tested virtual dressing rooms, which allowed consumers to see a virtual representation of themselves wearing select items on a video screen.
Positive benefits for all
The news source reported that experts expect virtual reality to have a positive impact on shopping for both consumers and retailers. In the former case, these technologies will provide greater information and insight to customers, enabling them to make better buying decisions. Additionally, the shopping experience itself will likely become more convenient and personalized, reducing frustration. For example, a department store may leverage information gleaned via this shopping technology to improve the layout of its store and even guide consumers as they shop.
“In five years you will not walk into a retailer and get lost,” said Barbara Barclay, general manager of an eye-tracking software company, the news source reported. “They’ll know who you are and what your last shopping experience was. They will know where you’re looking on a shelf. The whole shopping experience in five years will be highly personalized.”
As a result, real-world shopping will be less time-consuming and more enjoyable. Consequently, one of the biggest benefits of virtual reality solutions for retailers is that the shopping technology can help brick-and-mortar compete with online shops, as real-world shopping will offer an experience that the Internet cannot match.
However, the news source also reported that online retailers will likely benefit from virtual reality technology, as well. A consumer wearing Google Glass will be able to identify products and make purchases instantly as they go about their daily lives. For example, an individual may admire another person’s shirt. The advanced apps will identify the item and its source, and the user can then complete the purchase in a matter of seconds.
Obviously, the potential applications highlighted by the San Jose Mercury News are extremely exciting for retailers in every industry. Any shopping technology that makes finding and purchasing products easier and more enjoyable has the potential to greatly improve companies’ operations and bottom lines.
However, there are serious obstacles that businesses will need to overcome in order to take full advantage of these solutions. First and foremost, there is the question of implementation. The advanced software needed to effectively create and maintain accurate virtual reality offerings will inevitably require a complex process of integration and deployment. Without high-level oversight and guidance, utilizing these solutions will likely lead to disappointing results.
Another key consideration is the issue of security. As the San Jose Mercury News noted, these virtual reality programs will benefit retailers by collecting a tremendous amount of useful information concerning consumers’ shopping habits and preferences. This raw data can be leveraged via advanced retail intelligence and analytics efforts to help in the creation of optimized marketing, pricing and layout strategies.
Yet this information will also inevitably be an extremely enticing subject for cybercriminals. They will aim to steal this data in order to commit identity theft, fraud or corporate espionage. If successful, such a data breach will severely tarnish the victimized company’s reputation, driving away untold numbers of consumers. The firm would also likely face fines and other sanctions from relevant regulatory bodies.
Retailers interested in virtual reality shopping technology must therefore also devote themselves to upgrading their data management and cybersecurity efforts to account for this huge increase in accumulated data.