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What Does Virtual Reality Mean for Retail? Experiential shopping technology introduces new challenges to brick and mortar retailers. But is it all bad news?

Imagine you are redesigning your living room. You pick out paint color, a new couch, carpet, and a lamp. Wondering what these new items would look like, you pull out your phone to compare photographs and approximate dimensions. Then a store employee approaches you and asks if you would like to try on a virtual reality headset instead. Suddenly you are transported into a vivid, 3D version of your very own living room. With the flick of a video game-style control, you’re able to rearrange items, adjust colors, and fully imagine your redecorated space.

This scenario sounds like 2080, but it’s not. With new advancements in virtual reality, the future of retail is quickly becoming the stuff science fiction writers dreamed of. Virtual Reality company Marxent Labs helped Lowe’s create a “Holoroom” that enables customers to realistically visualize their home improvement projects—and feel confident in their decisions. And at 133 AT&T stores across the United States now have the chance to try out an Oculus headset and virtually experience Carnival Cruise—”surrounded by the sights and sounds of a warm and sunny cruise vacation.”

As exciting as these innovations sound, brick and mortar retailers might be worried about how this technology could affect their business. When everything can be virtually experienced, what’s the point of coming to the store? Is this the end of retail? Quite simply, the answer is no. Online shopping did not destroy the store, and neither will virtual reality. But as with emergence of e-retail, the most successful stores took lessons from their online competitors and redesigned stores with smart data, consumer analytic software, and digital displays. Providing a range of shopping tools—whether physical, digital, or virtual—is key to making customers feel confident in their decision-making. How will your store step up to the challenge?

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