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AR/VR Explores New Growth Area in the Retail Industry
COVID-19 and China
Walmart apply Oculus in employee training. Image credit: Walmart official website

The once whimsical ideas we only found in science fiction and novels are gradually being seen in real life. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two technologies that blend the real world with the digital one (AR) or create a substitute, or completely new, virtual world (VR). 

Though the hype of implementing these technologies in the game industry and consumer products has cooled from the previous two years, AR and VR have proceeded to change how humans interact with machines and related software.

The investment in AR/VR technologies worldwide also shows that some geographies and sectors continue to flourish. North America, perhaps not surprisingly, was seen as the top region for investment, while Asia Pacific region is considered to become the most tech-hungry market in the next five years.

In the retail industry, the implementation of AR and VR not only offers consumers immersive and engaging shopping experiences but also helps retailers reduce operating costs.

From the consumer side, according to a Goldman Sachs report, the global market for AR and VR will reach USD 1.6 billion by 2025 with over 32 million users. The most applied fields are in home improvement, apparel and the auto industry.

Home improvement: Home Improvement store Lowe's has a 'Holoroom' at six of its branch stores where customers can view the designs with a VR device and figure out how their kitchens and bathrooms would look like with Lowe's products. It has also been testing a VR glass that helps customers visualize and 'feel' a large home improvement product in the context of their own living space. Ikea also launched 'Ikea Place' – an AR app – to place Ikea's furniture wherever customers envision the pieces in their homes before purchasing.

Apparel: AR and VR are infiltrating into the 'try and buy' approach in the apparel industry. Some apparel retailers are adopting AR technologies to bring the process of fitting to homes. Alibaba is trying to create virtual reality glasses so that the customer can buy in a physical store without leaving home. The visual fitting room provides a physical space where customers can have a more comfortable and quicker shopping experience. Amazon has been planning for an AR dressing room from early 2018. When a customer enters a visual room, he/she can choose different models of garment, size and color regardless of the limitation of stock in one single store, avoiding the tiresome business of trying everything.

From the retailers' perspective, AR and VR in workforce training have seen significant uptake among top retailers and other industry players hoping to increase employee retention rates and productivity numbers. Based on a recent report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), workforce training is the top use case for both AR and VR.

Walmart has deployed VR technology across 200 training centers to train store managers and associates in new technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service, and compliance.

According to a survey of Perkins Coie & XR Association based on 200 founders and executives globally, 78% of respondents agreed that AR/VR is highly applicable in workforce development at this time and showed particular promise.

Editor: Luke Sheehan

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