Since the first outdoor shopping mall was opened in Kansas City, USA in 1922, malls have progressively evolved as areas that represent shopping not just as a necessity, but a social activity. With the advent of electronic retail, the traditional shopping methods have come under threat. Lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 further worsened this and created a need for shopping malls to integrate new experiences in order to survive the digital age. One way for shopping malls to do this is by embracing virtual reality and augmented to improve and personalise shopping experiences. Although both terms are used interchangeably, virtual reality refers to a replacement of a real life environment with a simulated one while augmented reality adds digital elements to a live view. Mixed reality combines both to create an even more unique experience.
Opportunities for AR, VR and Mixed Reality in the Retail Industry
According to Goldman Sachs, the market for AR and VR in retail will reach $1.6bn by 2025. By 2020, 20% of companies had already adopted virtual reality as a digital strategy for growth. Malls have begun to use ‘in-store kiosks’ for customers to create avatars and check out stores. These innovations can also make personalised suggestions and help customers to select products. Integration of virtual reality can also continue to maintain communication between customers and retailers, thus maintaining the social aspect of the shopping experience. In addition, VR can make stores accessible to far more people that can't make it to the store physically and exponentially increase the customer base for retailers. Many companies are already implementing this into their stores
i. VR allows customers to experience shopping outside the store and in various locations that they find convenient. Beyond just seeing the products, customers can explore a virtual store the same way they would a physical one, picking up and examining available items. Alibaba is one company that implemented this during ‘Singles Day’ to improver customer experience.
ii. VR can also make in-store a new, exciting experience and improve the impact of electronic options on physical presence of shoppers in the mall. Car manufacturers, such as Lexus, are introducing virtual reality to provide test drives to potential buyers in the showroom. Amazon also introduced kiosks around India where customers could walk through stores, try on products and receive information about these products. iii. An innovative technique by IKEA allows customers to virtually display products where they will be used to properly evaluate how well they fit and help shoppers make the best choices.
iv. Brands can make customers feel more connected by displaying the behind the scenes of manufacturing their favorite products. Such tactics can impact market psychology and improve brand loyalty among customers.
v. Malls are also aiding shoppers in navigation and finding stores that can carry what products they wish to purchase at the mall. This can also be implemented to direct shoppers to such necessities as parking spaces or convergence points during an emergency. Findmyway is a mobile application app that utilizes AR in directing mall goers to their seats at crowded movie or event halls.
vi. The application of VR isn’t related to shoppers alone. Retailers can apply information obtained by displaying products in determining effective marketing techniques as well as predicting which products and brands will be successful based on customers’ interactions with them.
vii.. VR can also help to streamline budgets by reducing the cost of describing and advertising products since customers are better able to experience them.
viii. VR also has significant applications in training of retail staff and augmenting the onboarding process. Simulating real life situations can speed up employee orientation and minimise the costs of training.
ix. The use of VR to test store layouts can help retailers to determine the most favorable designs to use in stores to make shopping easier for customers. This saves money and time and helps to optimise the planning process.
The introduction of VR in shopping promises to change the landscape of retailing and greatly impact the future of not just shopping, but also advertising, marketing and even construction of stores and malls. Tapping into the vast opportunities presented is expected to greatly advance growth in commerce and provide rewarding experiences for customers.