There’s never been a better time for retailers to unlock Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) opportunities to transform customer experiences. VR and AR tech has come a long way since its inception a decade ago and innovative retailers are using concepts like the virtual metaverse to reach new audiences.

For example, Ralph Lauren is experimenting with virtual storefronts, allowing consumers to experience fashion in a highly curated and engaging way. Business leaders from all industries recognise the potential, with analysts forecasting virtual worlds to be a US$800 billion market next year. So with this in mind, here are some areas where retailers are leveraging VR and AR to transform how they engage with shoppers. 

Try and experience before you buy

It’s no secret that omnichannel retail has become the de facto way for brands to reach consumers on their preferred channel. But beyond simply having a presence through various physical and digital channels, innovative retailers are taking advantage of virtual and augmented reality to help consumers try and experience products before they buy.

Nike uses VR and AR in its stores to allow shoppers to view essential information about the product or even experience how it was made. Ikea has the Place app so shoppers can view the furniture in their home before and BMW has an immersive virtual experience where customers can interact with their dream car. These are just a few examples of experiences that help customers touch and ‘feel’ products in a unique way. It’s little wonder then, why 66% of consumers are interested in using VR/AR for help when making purchasing decisions.

One-of-a-kind experiences

We are only just starting to see true innovation behind virtual and augmented reality experiences. For example, The Musée d’Orsay in Paris recently presented a VR experience called Van Gogh’s Palette at this year’s Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: The Final Months exhibition. The installation allowed visitors to enter the mysterious and thought-provoking last moments of Van Gogh’s life through an immersive experience, including an AI re-creation of Van Gough that visitors could converse with. This kind of experience would simply not have been possible just a few short years ago and shows how far the tech has come in its robustness and cost-effectiveness. 

In the retail setting, LVMH is using virtual reality to build emotional connections by taking shoppers on a journey to experience the history of Louis Vuitton. Wearers will be transported to the historic workshops and the founder’s family home and interact with the craftsmanship that has created some of the most iconic fashion icons of our time. It’s a new and unique way for fashion enthusiasts to get closer to the brand that they love.

Additionally, the global virtual fitting room market is set to reach $6.5 million by 2025, with retailers like Adidas already integrating this into its in-store experience and PacSun recently used AR to create a completely virtual storefront. Eye tracking is also being used to visualise retail layouts so that every aspect of the in-store experience can be as magical as possible.

Getting started is more approachable than ever

It’s never been easier for retailers to get started with VR and AR, with popular online services like Shopify already offering a simple way to create shoppable AR experiences

From a hardware standpoint, the latest headsets now incorporate virtual and mixed reality experiences into one headset that can be used standalone with no cables or connections required, which is ideal for a retail setting. Headset management solutions allow retailers to quickly view, update and manage all their headsets from a single dashboard. 

It’s clear that interest in VR and AR amongst the business community is growing and retail is just one industry where its applications and benefits are increasing exponentially. The experiences afforded by VR/AR go beyond entertainment and provide real value to consumers who want to interact with brands in new and exciting ways.

Thomas Dexmier is country manager for Australia & New Zealand at HTC Vive.