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How Retailers are Bridging the Gap Between Digital and Physical Shopping Experiences

Retailers have experienced a period of accelerated digital transformation in recent years – sped up by the pandemic, traditional shopping habits have changed irrevocably and retailers have been forced to embrace this or risk falling behind, with the development of a seamless digital shopping experience now paramount to success. Digital advancements in retail are showing no signs of slowing down, with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) rapidly infiltrating the industry, creating the opportunity for retailers to bridge the gap between digital and physical shopping experiences.


The growing role of AR and VR in retail

Furniture retailers were some of the earliest adopters of AR within the industry, with brands such as IKEA and Made.com launching AR capability within their apps to allow shoppers to visualise furniture in their own homes before making a purchase. Beauty brands have also developed the functionality to try on make-up virtually at home, with L’Oréal acquiring the AR tech company Modiface to provide beauty try-on simulations for customers. It’s no surprise that brands want to develop their AR functionality: with Shopify reporting a 94% increase in the conversion rate for products that featured 3D content, the benefits are clear to see.


AR has emerged as a powerful tool for brands to enhance the customer experience, and its use in the industry will continue to develop over the coming years. ‘See My Fit’ AR technology, trialled by ASOS in early 2020, digitally shows customers how an outfit might look on different body types.

We envisage technology such as this developing to the stage that customers will be able to shop using a digital avatar that is a perfect clone of themselves, allowing them to try on outfits virtually before making a purchase.

This will hugely improve the shopping experience for customers, allowing them to understand look and fit before committing to buying. It will also help them to make better decisions on products that have traditionally been difficult to buy online. Last but by no means least, it will also help reduce return rates.

The emergence of the Metaverse

And how can we talk about AR/VR developments without touching on the word on everybody’s lips – Metaverse? Put simply, the Metaverse is a 3D digital environment created through a combination of AR, VR and video which creates a virtual parallel reality that can be seamlessly navigated. If the Metaverse grows as many predict, it would be limitlessly shoppable and has the potential to radically change retail as we currently know it.

There are already scores of retailers dipping their toe into the virtual world - be it through partnerships with gaming platforms, such as Balenciaga and Fortnite enabling players to buy designer ‘wearables’ for their avatars, or through virtual fashion items that can be digitally edited onto the customer’s body, ready for posting on social media. Nike recently announced that it had bought virtual shoe company RTFKT Studios (who make trainers for the Metaverse) which they claim will allow them to “grow their innovative and creative community and extend Nike’s digital footprint and capabilities”.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that making advancements in the virtual world is going to be a significant strategy for many brands over the next few years.

Finally, how could this futuristic avatar-filled virtual universe inform the real world? Whilst the collaboration was denied by H&M, the reports of the tie-up with CEEK to create a virtual store in the Metaverse were exciting all the same. The accounts described how customers would be able to walk through a virtual store, browse products to purchase and be worn in the digital universe and then provide customers with the opportunity to order the same products from H&M’s in-real-life stores. We expect to see lots more overlap between the virtual and physical world as brands develop their digital capabilities and their customer’s desire to consume virtually grows.

This article is part of our 2022 "Crystal Ball" Trend Predictions report. Download the report here and discover more exciting topics we'll be exploring throughout the year.


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