When it comes to retail, it is true that technology has indeed managed to inject fun and innovation into shopping. Today’s shoppers need not visit the brick-and-mortar stores anymore. With smartphones, people can effectively access e-commerce websites and shop using a digital shopping cart—within just a few clicks. Retailers too have come a long way in offering a highly personalized experience for their customers. However, the experience is still not enough to engage them. So what’s missing? To be precise, a lack of immersive experience (the fun). Thankfully – for retailers as well as customers – Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is here to fill the void.

The Retail Today

While the talks around AR and VR will continue for a while, there is little doubt that these technologies are rapidly spreading their roots across the globe. Although initially they have been widely popularized in gaming, businesses are now beginning to realize that they can also be leveraged to create highly immersive shopping experiences. IKEA’s AR-based furniture app, for instance, is just a peek into what the future of retail may look like. Using a smartphone’s camera, users can virtually place furniture in their rooms to visualize how it looks like prior to the purchase. Similarly, this “try before you buy” facility is also made available by numerous retailers for clothing as well. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, over 100 million consumers will shop using AR.

AR and VR are working together to combine physical and digital retail experiences. This includes highly personalized and intriguing messages via AR/VR in the in-store signage, having AR/AI hosts that assist customers in shopping and directs them to specific departments within the store. That’s not all. VR for visualizing store layouts, and augmented products with instant coupon delivery option are also gaining popularity.

The Significant Role of AI

A lot has been said about how AR and VR are transforming the retail landscape. However, the fact is - AI is also playing an equally dominating role in taking customer experience to an exceptional level of efficiency. It is now turning out to be the backend technology for most customer journeys. Interactive voice technologies like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, Alexa are great examples of this. 

Furthermore, retailers and marketers are also using AI-based data analytics to capture the customer’s data. This quickly helps them predict future outcomes and customer queries. Apart from these, AI can also optimize customer relationship management and offer product recommendations based on the customer’s browsing habits. And these are just baby steps towards a future driven by numerous possibilities.

The Future of In-store Customer Experiences

In a nutshell, the core motive of AI/AR/VR in retail is to minimize the inputs required for shopping; making the overall experience interactive and engaging. As more and more brands and businesses discover the power of AI/AR/VR, retail stores near you may be AI-driven, or fully virtualized in the near future. As for now, talking about their efficiency and ease of use, we are still scratching the surface.

Originally published , updated May 07 2018