How Virtual and Augmented Realities Are Shaping the Retail Experience

How Virtual and Augmented Realities Are Shaping the Retail Experience

Shopping is an experience. The act of shopping is defined by browsing a selection of goods, comparing the pros and cons, then making the best choice. In the digital age, that experience takes place, in large part, in front of a computer screen. We shop from the comfort of our homes, or wherever we may be at the moment. The closest that many shoppers come to seeing something they buy before purchasing is a 360-degree photo, such as the one seen here. Despite it being helpful, it doesn’t come close to simulating an experience.

Over half of consumers polled say that retailers do not take advantage of available technologies to provide the best shopping experience they could offer. Some retailers are attempting to fill this void by employing virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) to hawk their wares and inspire consumers to buy.

Virtual vs. Augmented Reality

Unless you are a tech geek, you may not be exactly sure of the difference between VR and AR, and how they can each add to a unique shopping experience.

Virtual Reality

VR lets users fully immerse themselves in a virtual environment. High-end VR systems allow users to move in this digital world and hear sounds via a headset. The virtual experience requires either specialized headsets or a cardboard standalone VR device that works with a smartphone for the same effect.  

Augmented Reality

AR overlays digital content, in the form of objects — images and video — on the real world. A user can interact with the real world while the digital object appears to be present as well. As with VR, specialized headsets are used to experience the digital content, but mobile applications that substitute for a headset are available.

Real World Applications of Reality Technologies

Successful retailers know that they need to stand out in a world where Amazon is king, and shoppers almost never have to leave their homes to shop. Certain retail industries can benefit significantly by using reality technologies.

Home Improvement

Otherwise known as the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom (KBB) market, retailers that sell home furnishings, paint, and other related goods are prime examples of where AR can help boost sales. Shoppers are more likely to back out of a renovation-related purchase if they aren’t sure about how it will look in the end.

An exciting example of this is Lowe’s Measured app, which shoppers can download to their mobile devices. Using the app, a user can scan a room where they want to add furniture or other home improvement products, then virtually place the product in the image of their room on the device. Buyers don’t have to worry about accurate measurements, or if the color looks good with their walls.

Auto Retailers

VR gives customers a unique perspective on the cars when they shop for them. Audi launched its VR experience in 2017 to stand out from the crowd and draw shoppers to the showroom, two challenges for car dealers. The VR experience gives customers the chance to see what various options such as color, interior, and wheels look like from all angles, just like in real life. Shoppers can virtually pull off and inspect parts if they need that level of detail, something that real-life dealerships would be unlikely to offer.


No products are under scrutiny as much as cosmetics are, literally. MAC Cosmetics has launched an AR mirror that allows a user to see what their face looks like with the virtual makeup on, while still moving their face like they would in an actual mirror. MAC is using technology to their competitive advantage by understanding what their customer base wants, and then delivering it before the competition does.

Visualize the Real Power of Technology

Technology will continue to evolve, and savvy retailers know that to stay competitive, their businesses will have to evolve in lockstep. The way to stay ahead of the curve in the current retail environment is to give shoppers a unique experience and to build brand loyalty. From big data analytics that provides a look into consumers’ habits to VR’s unique ability to create an emotional connection with shoppers, retailers have a diverse toolkit to build their businesses.