Will AR and VR revolutionise the retail experience?

Simon Brennan, VP, Engage Hub

It is no secret that the UK high street is facing a perfect storm of market pressure, from changes driven by the rise of ecommerce, escalating rents to unfavourable trading conditions. The key to battling this storm is for retailers to rapidly innovate and stay at the forefront of technological change.

As technology evolves so do customer shopping habits and expectations. We’ve seen this in the rise of chatbots, artificial intelligence and messaging apps. In fact, our own research highlighted that in order to succeed, organisations have to offer a choice of channels to meet their increasing demands and needs (81% of customers want a variety of channels), as well as delivering a seamless, integrated experience across all of them. Fortunately for businesses, our fourth industrial revolution is facilitating a new era of speed – the capability to introduce new channels has never been easier. Augmented reality (AR) , virtual reality (VR) dressing rooms and even drone delivery, are now possibilities to keep customers loyal.

Branded as “technologies of the future”, we are already seeing AR and VR being deployed by large, online and instore retailers as an attempt to make the customer journey more immersive and engaging. For customers who prioritise ‘ease of use’ these new technologies are perfect as they allow consumers a chance to ‘try’ before they buy. As well as convenience, AR and VR are helping stores to differentiate themselves from the traditional retailer. On paper, it has never been easier for retailers to deliver a more visual and convenient approach to the customer experience and ultimately, boost sales.

However, AR and VR are not the only technologies changing up the customer experience landscape. Many businesses don’t need to run before they can walk when it comes to implementing the latest technology. Increasingly, chatbots are being used as a more convenient way for customers to engage with brands, specifically when they require help. In fact, 87% of businesses say self-service customer enquiries are a current priority of theirs. Apart from the obvious benefits like saving businesses money, self-service chatbots are improving customer experience and satisfaction. It’s fair to say we have all had our share of agonising waits and frustrating calls with agents and can therefore, understand the appeal of having access to instant help and real-time information.

In the era of GDPR and customers being particularly sensitive about who they give their personal data to, retailers must remember to be upfront about who or what they’re speaking to. Giving customers the option to self-serve will only succeed if you’re as transparent as possible.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that although traditionally a human touch has been the cornerstone of customer experience, retailers that fail to adapt to the latest technologies and incorporate them into the customer journey risk losing customers to their competitors. Starting with the basics in place, such as with chatbot technology, can be just as effectual as implementing the latest technology making the headlines, such as AR and VR.

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