Tech solution-providers have unveiled new technologies in order to lure and maintain consumers. Amid these launches, two directions have are gaining the support of retailers: virtual and augmented reality, and smart mirrors.
These technologies are not mutually exclusive, but retailers that attempt to integrate both in a short period of time might cannibalize their efforts — at least at this stage of consumer readiness.
Shoppers may not be ready to inherit multiple solutions at the same time, but they are prepared to accept frictionless, holistic retail experiences. A report, “Shaping the Future of Retail for Consumer Industries” released by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Accenture said, “The key drivers of success over the next decade will be centered on building a deep understanding of and connection to the empowered consumer, promptly incorporating disruptive technologies, embracing transformative business models in both the off-line and online space, and establishing key capabilities.”
Each technology has shaken up the in-store and e-tail market in an effort to appeal to increasingly selective consumers. Dressing rooms have been upgraded from panic-inducing thresholds to elevated, connected tools that serve as try-on assets, means to communicate with sales associates, and self-checkout vehicles. “Fitting rooms today are a problem. They are the place of the highest conversion in-store from your best customers, yet it is the place of highest dissatisfaction in the retail store,” said Healy Cypher, cofounder and chief executive officer of Oak Labs, which creates smart mirrors. With the introduction of this technology, one of the worst aspects of in-store shopping is turned on its head.
Smart mirrors have been placed in and outside dressing rooms and makeup counters in addition to other key in-store real estate. Neiman Marcus, Estée Lauder and Giorgio Armani have placed them in their brick-and-mortars. They’re not simply the next generation of mirrors, they’re design to be problem-solvers. “The sunglass mirror was developed in partnership with Memomi and Luxottica,” said Scott Emmons, head of Innovation Lab at Neiman Marcus. “They solve the problem that you couldn’t see how specific glasses look on your face, as well as allowing for side-by-side comparisons of different try-ons and sharing via e-mail and social media.”
Since their integration into stores, customers of MeMomi and Oak Lab — two of the biggest players in the smart mirror segment — have benefited hugely. “In the nearly one-and-a-half years we’ve been live with clients, we have proven out some staggering data points: shoppers using the mirror spend 59 percent more than those who don’t, 84 percent of customers engage with the technology, and we have brought in an unprecedented level of insight into what happens in the fitting room that is definitely resounding well within fashion brands,” said Cypher. They’re more than decorative accessories. Salvador Vilcovsky, ceo of Memomi, said, “In Uniqlo San Francisco, we have two full-length mirrors, which have massive usage — more than 12,000 users every month — it means every two minutes someone uses them.”
What smart mirrors do to invigorate in-store experiences, virtual and augmented reality do to deliver digitized retail. Newer in its stages of integration and consumer acceptance, virtual reality has already made a splash. While social media continues to democratize access to fashion news, VR might be able to transform the brick-and-mortar experience: Clandestine boutiques in the outer reaches of metropolitan areas could accessible by slipping on a headset.
It’s a consumer’s world, and retailers are struggling. “VR technology provides an opportunity for brands to tell a story and immerse consumers in their culture, adding an emotional layer on top of the practical connection already established between a brand and its consumer. Best-in-class presentation and merchandising has been a hallmark of a compelling retail and brand experience; VR is a key enabler of that,” said a Samsung spokesman.
Newer on the block, augmented reality stands to be the next phase of customized consumer experiences — a demand of today’s shoppers. During this year’s NRF trade show, Google presented its AR functionality realized in its Google Tango DressingRoom app in partnership with Gap Inc. “The DressingRoom app by Gap allows customers to get a sense of sizing from the comfort of my own home. Gap can carry out a mobile conversion with better visualization information without ever breaking the flow of that conversion,” said Sophie Miller, a member of Google Tango’s business development team. “By creating meaningful experiences like the Gap app you can have a positive impact on the integration of mobile, in-store and beyond.”
This immersion of omnichannel retailing coupled with heightening shopper needs informed Gap’s choice to explore AR technology. “Technology gives customers incredible autonomy around the shopping experience and it’s our responsibility to constantly explore new ways to make the shopping experience effortless and pursue solutions that will add value to the customer experience,” said Gil Krakowsky, vice president of global strategy and business development at Gap. “We have tried to think through what people will prioritize: Will they want the ease of pre-determined avatars? Will they want something more customized?”
And though owning VR headsets is yet to be as commonplace as a smartphone, it’s on its way. “More than five million Gear VR headsets are in the hands of consumers globally, which signals a significant early success. It still has a long way to become part of everyone’s daily lives in the way the smartphone has,” a Samsung spokesman said.
Shoppers might not know what they want specifically, and that’s OK. It’s up to retailers and brands to explore solutions for problems consumers don’t even realize they have. “If the technology delivers a new experience, then there are always customers that are willing to try it. The key to getting interest in the new experiences is making it easy to use and it helps to solve a real problem,” said Emmons.
Will one triumph over the other? It’s still too early to tell, however, they might not need to compete. “I believe the relationship between the technologies will be symbiotic. VR and AR technologies will provide the ability to develop and deliver more exciting use cases to the customer. They go hand-in-hand. We have already started down this path with our color changing and pattern changing capabilities,” Vilcovsky said.
Cypher echoed Vilcovsky, “I believe there is a place for different types of technology at different touch points in the physical shopping experience. However, there is something to say about products like smart mirrors (or other interactive features and signage) that enable shoppers to remain heads-up and hands-free in the store to experience the theater of retail and exercise their senses.”
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