Virtual reality and augmented reality could certainly become a powerful channel for brand-consumer interactions, much like mobile and social are today. Why? Well the fashion industry is indisputably undergoing a revolution as retailers embark on digital transformations of their entire organisations because of changing consumer demands that are fuelling increasingly complex shopping journeys and a myriad of interactions.
What has been noticeable with such intelligent personalisation solutions is the way they increasingly use new interfaces. The interactions between customers and retailers are now being undertaken through visuals and voice, which will inevitably push aside text.
Visual interfaces and personalisation could really reach their zenith, and deliver the near-perfect customer journey, with the advent of VR. Although the technology has been around for some time and there are ongoing developments from the likes of Facebook and Google it is still very much in its formative years as a platform for use by customers in their own homes. Now, however, it is beginning to look interesting to retailers for use in the operational side of their business. Both inVRsion and InContext were showcasing VR solutions at NRF that enable retailers to virtually test store layouts and the merchandising of products on the shelves through an immersive VR experience.
Who is driving the innovation?
For fashion brands, which depend on selling not only products but also a dream, VR holds promise and several companies have been experimenting with the technology.
- Tommy Hilfiger became the first major fashion retailer to deploy virtual reality headsets in its stores, inviting shoppers to immerse themselves in a 360-degree experience of the label’s Autumn/Winter fashion show.
- Gap is experimenting. The retailer unveiled an augmented reality dressing room that allows consumers to try its ranges digitally.
- Topshop’s flagship Moscow location is the site of an augmented reality kiosk. Standing in front of the structure, visitors see themselves just like looking in a mirror. By using hand gestures and virtual buttons, shoppers can superimpose clothing onto their image.
- Beauty brands have been early to AR. Sephora, Charlotte Tilbury and Rimmel have all launched AR applications that allow consumers to try on products through a filter on their phones.
Advantages? The technology is new and noticeable
Alternative realities are innovative and are considered appealing especially by the younger and tech savvy market. VR and AR impress this potentially affluent demographic, and if you can offer a viable use for it, they are likely to flock to your business to try it out. You could potentially open the door to a new target market.
Fashion retail business leaders are confident that virtual reality will change the way consumers interact with brands. For Tommy Hilfiger "it's not about turnover by square foot anymore. It's about surprise by square foot, or newness," and this is where virtual reality comes in. Virtual reality is a refreshing way for brands to directly engage with consumers.
Globally, brands are taking both AR and VR seriously; Dior, Converse Shoes, American Apparel, Gap – these are just the headline retailers. And the numbers stack up to. The latest market study provided by Juniper Research shows that enterprises and industrial markets are going to bite the $2.4 billion piece of pie in 2019. Compared to $247 million in 2014. With Microsoft, Google and Facebook fast developing and innovating in these areas, the market is disrupted and it’s only a matter of time before these immersive experiences become part of the norm.