This summer’s Pokémon Go craze was the first augmented reality experience for many people of all ages. Some players even chased Pikachu right into retail stores. There is a much wider range of possibilities, however, for retail virtual reality (VR). For example, car companies like Lexus, Land Rover and Volvo have successfully used VR to allow customers to virtually test drive vehicles, glasses retailer, Warby Parker has long allowed for virtual “try on,” and outdoor apparel retailer The North Face offer VR outdoor adventures at their stores. When it comes to sales, competing on shipping and customer experience, VR isn’t just a novelty — it can positively impact a retailer’s bottom line.

Shoppers are beginning to see the advantages of VR in retail — online blog eMarketer reports that two-thirds of Internet users would be interested in retail virtual reality, while 63% believe the technology would change the way they shop.

How VR Is Changing Fitting Rooms

Retail virtual reality can remove some of the challenges that can stand in the way of sales.  At apparel and department stores, virtual dressing rooms help remove some of the discomfort people feel when trying on clothing.

Upscale retailers Nordstrom and Rebecca Minkoff are piloting a touchscreen mirror that works with a scanner, so people can track what they are trying on and browse other colors, sizes, styles and reviews — without ever leaving the fitting room. Other retail virtual reality allows shoppers to superimpose outfits over their body so they don’t even need to get undressed — a bonus for people who hate trying things on or are pressed for time.

Retail virtual reality can also combine what usually requires a trip to a physical store with online shopping. Some customers are hesitant to purchase clothing online, especially hard-to-shop for items like bathing suits. A solution to this problem is to give shoppers a way to upload their body stats and virtually “try on” clothing. According to PwC’s Digital Pulse, this can be accomplished two ways: by asking the user to input their measurements and generate a model or by having them undergo a full-body scan at a nearby brick-and-mortar location.

Customers Crave New Experiences

While shoppers’ mobile, touchscreen tablets or desktop computers can provide some virtual reality experiences, other virtual reality technology requires the use of a specialized headset not widely owned or marketed to consumers. Novelty-seeking customers will be drawn to opportunities to trial VR in retail, which can help retailers build their customer databases. For example, Samsung offered shoppers the chance to take a virtual reality cruise using the Samsung Gear at select AT&T stores. The company combined this with the chance to win a real cruise, allowing the company to gather relevant information on potential customers.

These types of in-store promotions give retailers the chance to showcase the best of their brand and test virtual dressing rooms and other applications for VR technology. Moreover, these events drive foot traffic and in-store sales and build brand loyalty.

VR for the Retail Bottom Line

VR could also address a major pain point for online retailers: According to Digital Pulse,approximately 30% of all online apparel purchases are returned, compared to a 10% return rate for other products like household goods, toys and electronics. The investment retailers make in technology to allow customers to order clothes online can pay off in the long run with savings in shipping and restocking costs.

This technology can also increase sales by connecting shoppers with the right items more often. To accomplish this, VR must be supported by endless aisle and inventory management solutions that give retailers visibility into available stock. Managing inventory as a single stock pool across all locations and channels will allow retailers offering virtual fitting rooms to locate the right size and color of the item in the store for the customer or have it shipped directly to the customer or to the store for pickup.

It may be a few years before retail virtual reality is commonplace, but retailers can begin to explore ideas for how VR technology can provide a higher level of customer service and a more customized consumer profile for online shopping. ROI can include higher sales, fewer returns from online customers, and a tremendous buzz that will drive foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar location.

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