What you need to know about the (virtual reality) future of retail

I’ve always wondered what the future of retail would be like. Most of my thoughts involved a combination of scenes from futuristic movies and my desire to have more efficient shopping experiences. I was thrilled to find out that in the future, brands will care about more than just making money from me, but will also value a more meaningful connection. These are just some of the findings presented by the impactful report reviewing “The Future of Immersive Branding and Retail”.

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The report, written in collaboration with Ericsson, AT&T and Rocketspace, asserted that contrary to popular belief, retail isn’t dying but instead is developing more personalized and engaging experiences to create something more meaningful for users. It inspires us all to imagine a future where shopping more fully resonates with consumers. In addition, the report provides a strong foundation for understanding this future through interviews with over 25 expert contributors, industry insights and a list of relevant startups building the basis for what’s coming next in the industry of retail and branding.

Here are some of the insights that I found really exciting…

Brick-and-mortar stores replace commerce with immersive brand experiences

Shoppers have been known to avoid going to the store and opt for the convenience of ordering online. As the process has become more streamlined and the payment process has increased its security, the in-store shopping experience has fallen by the wayside. I know so many people that fall into the category of this projection. Just this past week, I’ve ordered at least 10 packages online.

However, we are at the cusp of a new approach for brick-and-mortar that will allow for the customer to be much more highly engaged. Ben Gilchriest from Capgemini put it best: “Consumers use physical stores for getting inspired rather than just making transactions. The challenge retailers face is changing their mindset to reinvent the physical space – not improve upon the existing one.”

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I find stores overwhelming because of all the options, and quickly disengage because I don’t feel like anyone cares that I am there. I would much prefer to walk into a gamified store that uses augmented or virtual reality and IoT products to make shopping unique to each person. An emotional connection and the ability to share this feeling within the community will bring people back to brick-and-mortar retail.

Consumers drive their own branding journey

An important experience missing from my life is having more knowledge about my environment, including my neighborhood, the stores along my commute or opportunities I may have to connect with friends. Not too far from now, any person walking out their door on their way to work in the morning will encounter and engage with a variety of content on their commute. Devices will be used to draw people into the breadth of products available, especially locally. This level of engagement would change my life and let me make better choices for products and share this information with my network easily.

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Personal phones, in addition to updating notifications for this information will also be able to connect to public devices. Consequently, mobile will be a platform for retail to identify individuals and get more insight into behavior and location, even focusing on specific aspects of a person’s lifestyle. For example, through computer vision recognition, retailers will be able to analyze someone’s mood. This data will continually improve and produce real-time results as a person engages more with their environment.

Our subconscious will do the shopping for us

In the future, retailers will be able to anticipate our shopping needs. Ofer Klein from Kwik said that “the challenge is to use consumer feedback loops to not only understand their needs now, but predict their needs in the future as well.” Routine purchases will be taken care of without a second thought. Even today, companies like Amazon and Walmart are completing grocery deliveries directly to the fridge in your home. I order kitty litter and cleaning products every few weeks, and it would be nice to come home to my favorite products already in my kitchen.

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Consumers will be able to give retailers cues by selecting products used in TV content, public advertisements or directed in-store marketing. We’ll live in a world where you could click on a set of skis in a movie scene and retailers will know to add ski pants, hats, gloves and a helmet to your cart. This would have been especially useful when I went skiing in Tahoe for the first time last year. Without this technology, I ended up forgetting a hat! The development of image recognition and blockchain technology will increase the efficiency and security of building consumer profiles and the execution of routine purchases.

Virtually try it before you buy it

If you would still like to experience a product before you take it home, innovative brands are using augmented reality to make shopping reveal as much as information as possible about the product. Consumers will be able to rearrange products in any context and configuration. I can imagine buying a new home and wanting to figure out how to furnish and decorate it. Companies in the report, like Sayduck, are a dream come true. Or, what if I could quickly try on different sizes of an outfit? Trupik is a visualization platform that helps consumers virtually try on apparel on a 3D mapping of their bodies.

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Sonia Schechter from Marxent confirmed this. “Fifty percent of customers are interested in experiencing products in AR, especially high consideration type of goods like furniture. The costs to produce the 3D experience are significant, but will get lower in 3 years and we will also be able to experience soft products like clothes in 3D.” Retailers will invite consumers to share feedback, interact with their friends in a virtual community and amplify what are today only in-person purchases.

Self-aware stores will take care of the customers and themselves

The level of personalization happening in the near future will make it feel like you’re walking into a small-town store. Technology will allow staff on site to focus 100 percent on the customer because robots, augmented reality and artificial intelligence will have answered initial questions and made the payment process even more seamless. Staff can then deep dive into making a shopper’s experience more meaningful. I love this projection because my best shopping experiences happen when an attendant understands what I want and is quickly able to provide it for me. One of my favorite stores starts building a set of clothes for you to try on that fit your mood, event or in the moment whimsical choices. It would be ideal if this was not a manual process.

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Bots and Us is a company who has already started to work on this technology by developing a social robot that can handle basic logistics and provides updates on inventory and store occupancy. This future is close and will forever change the way that consumers engage in retail.

These projections far exceed my imaginings about the future. Learning from experts, reading industry insights and connecting the dots about retail and branding has opened my eyes to what is soon to be possible. I look forward to a more meaningful relationship with my favorite stores!

Go deeper into the future of retail by viewing AT&T Foundry’s full The Future of Immersive Branding and Retail report.


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