For more information on how retailers are using mixed commerce solutions, check out our Mixed Commerce Glossary, which defines the terminology being used by businesses to describe the changes currently sweeping retail. For a rundown of the biggest developments in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality from the past 12 months, check out our 2016 roundup, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Year In Review. And for a look ahead, check out the 5 top Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology trends for 2017.
Say hello to a whole new way to shop
The retail experience is undergoing a rapid transformation, with shopping evolving from an act of pure consumption to something more akin to entertainment. That’s right, in this brave new retail world the accumulation of stuff will often be the secondary reason for a transaction.
The rise of the digital ecosystem within every aspect of our lives has already changed the way we shop, putting the focus on both convenience and price. In this emerging economic climate, retailers need to present something unique — whether it be an unbelievable product, deal, or experience — to get customers to actually visit a brick and mortar location. Businesses who succeed in this regard reap a reward almost as good as money: positive word of mouth.
Mixed commerce: more than just marketing
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality provide ways for retailers to offer unique experiences, and merchants are grabbing the opportunity to make a technological splash. For example, The North Face created a VR experience that took consumers on a fully-immersive outdoor adventure. There was a clear connection to the winter gear North Face is selling, but the experience was geared more to marketing than commerce. This is an issue with many current branded VR experiences — they are fun and tell a story about the brand, but they don’t provide a better buying experience for the consumer considering a purchase.
Mixed commerce is about more than clever marketing — it’s a platform that allows the creation of entirely new ways for people to shop, while also giving retailers and manufacturers highly detailed and specific data on consumer behavior. A retailer who creates a mixed commerce, VR/AR-enabled experience is offering consumers an entirely new way to compare products and interact with samples, ultimately leading to a more confident purchase than current online transactions allow.
Far from offering one specific solution, mixed commerce opens the door to an unlimited number of new retail strategies and experiences. So forget the ubiquitous brick and mortar stores crammed into strip malls and shopping plazas. Mixed commerce-powered retailers are starting to arrive on the scene, and they are succeeding by going where the consumer is, and delivering an experience in which the shopper is in control.
3 ways businesses are applying mixed commerce solutions in the real world:
1. Placing mixed commerce kiosks in high-traffic areas
The boring mall kiosk is getting a huge makeover. Manufacturers and retailers are attracted to this idea, because it’s a low-cost solution to get products in front of large numbers of people without needing them to visit an existing retail store. The merchant can bring its unique and interactive retail experience to the consumer, wherever that consumer is — whether that’s in a traditional shopping mall, at a train-station or metro, or other high-traffic areas like stadiums or college campuses.
One example of a mixed commerce kiosk solution is eBay’s Connected Glass, which the company tested in the Westfield San Francisco Centre Mall. eBay partnered with Sony, Rebecca Minkoff, and TOMS Shoes to build out virtual storefronts where consumers could search products on a giant touch screen and buy directly within the experience. Every touch and interaction was tracked, and that data was then used to better understand consumer’s buying habits. Connected Glass even used Kinect cameras to report consumer engagement by tracking the number of consumers who walked by the display verses those who stepped up and interacted with it.
2. Creating digital experiences at existing brick and mortar locations
Today’s consumers expect more from retailers, like a unique shopping experience that provides a more convenient and personalized way to buy. For now these experiences have been limited to things like the Lowe’s Holoroom, which allows the complete design and visualization of a home improvement project in Virtual Reality, but you will soon see a wave of retailers using Augmented and Virtual Reality to provide design and visualization solutions to consumers within a small-footprint retail setting. Retail space is incredibly expensive, and technology can allow retailers to showcase unlimited digital inventory. Combine that with a smaller physical inventory and you have a winning combination.
One new example is Canadian Tire, which sells a wide range of automotive, sports/leisure and home products. Canadian Tire recently built a digitally enabled store that features more than 100 screens, many of them interactive, where consumers can do everything from test out some new tires using the driving simulator, to redesigning their back patio on a large touchscreen and checking out the new look in Virtual Reality on an Oculus Rift headset.
These digital interactions provide Canadian Tire with valuable data about how consumers shop, and will help drive continued innovation at the retailer for years to come.
3. Bringing the retail experience into a customer’s home
Consumers are shopping online more than ever. It doesn’t get more convenient than relaxing on the couch, browsing an endless inventory of products, and buying it on the spot — with free shipping, of course. Traditional e-commerce is limited, though, and there are still products consumers are reluctant to buy online.
Manufacturers and retailers are using Augmented Reality to give consumers the ability to visualize products within their home, the thought being that a person is less likely to experience buyers remorse if they can see a product in their space before they buy it.
Are you looking to build a new deck on the back of your home? TimberTech and AZEK both allowing you to visualize your dream deck on the back of your home using specialized apps powered by Augmented Reality. Are you looking to visualize furniture inside your living room? IKEA has been using AR for years to give consumers the power to visualize their products at home.
Augmented Reality has gone mainstream in a big way this year, with Pokemon Go breaking app store records, and Google Tango paving the way for a new family of AR-driven devices. It’s rumored that Apple isn’t far behind, and every consumer will soon have access to powerful AR tools on their mobile phones and tablets. The Manufacturers and retailers who are ready to take advantage of this shift will reap huge benefits, while those who fail to act will end up cashing out.
Tim Sandlund is a Senior Project Manager at Marxent.