Blog > Virtual reality, augmented reality and retail disruption

Virtual reality, augmented reality and retail disruption

In a digital generation that’s always ‘switched on’ and the product alone is no longer enough, retailers are beginning to provide interactive shopping experiences by driving traffic in-store and online using virtual reality and augmented reality.

Although similar in the aspect that both AR & VR offer cutting edge, enhanced and enriched experiences; the ways in which these experiences are provided differ.

The differences

VR is a three dimensional, computer generated reality that enables users to experience scenarios that don’t really exist.

Generally used with a headset to block out the physical environment, virtual reality has the ability to fully immerse users through the incorporation of sensory stimulation including audio, visual and touch which makes the experience nearly indistinguishable from the real world.

Ensuring that the illusion is never lost, virtual reality is so realistic that when you turn your head, the virtual world turns with you.

Augmented reality is an overlay of contextual layers on the physical environment.  The elements of augmented reality include computer-generated sensory including sound, video, graphics or GPS data; all of which enable real-time interactions usually viewed through a device.

Disruption, good or bad?

When you hear the word disruption, you don’t necessarily perceive it as positive… But is retail disruption such a bad thing? Or can you define disruption as a replacement of values newly accepted by consumers?

A report from Fujitsu Fit for Digital suggests that UK retailers are embracing the digital disruption. Revealing that a staggering 80% of retailers believe that exciting business opportunities will be presented through digital disruption.

An advantage that brick and mortar stores have always held over online shopping was that customers were able to try before they buy, allowing the shopper to easily return items that had issues. However, augmented reality now allows customers to virtually try on items from the comfort of their own home.

A good example of this, is when jewellery brand DeBeers allowed guests to virtually try on jewellery from their Forevermark diamonds collection.

Photo property of DeBeers jewellers

Through augmented reality, all customers needed was a Webcam and a printer to be able to take part in the experience. Following instructions on the site, DeBeers made trying on jewellery as simple as printing off your chosen piece, cutting it out and holding it up to the Webcam to see how each piece would look on your body.

What does this mean for the future of retail?

The disruption of VR and AR doesn’t mean the end of brick and mortar stores. More retailers are adopting the technology to drive more traffic in-store by vastly improving their experiences, something which is incredibly important to the two most digitally advanced generations of shoppers, Gen Y & Gen Z.

An example of AR and VR used by retailers includes:

Smart mirrors: Smart mirrors are an innovative concept that recognises items as soon as the customer walks into the dressing room. The mirror includes important information such as size and colour. Displaying all of your items on an interactive screen, customers can see available sizes and colours which are able to be requested from the fitting room which then notifies sales assistants who bring the items to your room. The mirror also suggests items that would complete the outfit, adopted by brands including Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom, the concept is designed to enhance shopping experiences.


Cashless Self-Checkout: Amazon led the way with the launch of their self-checkout store. The shop, which allows shoppers to sign into an app as they enter means that they can take what they want from the shelves and then just walk out of the shop with it without having to queue, go to a till or even scan their items. The smart technology registers everything picked up by the customer and logs it into the mobile app, and then is charged to the synced bank account when the customer leaves the shop enabling fast and effective shopping.

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Offering a different experience: Retailers now have an opportunity to engage further with consumers using innovative experiences. Fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger did just that by implementing virtual reality into selected stores around the world which enabled shoppers to watch a 360 degree, 3D version of the Fall 2015 catwalk show from the front row. CEO Daniel Grieder said he wanted to “offer retail experiences that consumers never thought possible.”

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