New Reality of Retail: VR, AR, and AI use cases

Image courtesy: Ikea

Image courtesy: Ikea


The adoption of VR and AR is changing the way consumers interact with the world, and AI and machine learning are allowing businesses to deeply personalise their services.

Retail companies are not an exception.

The interest in mixed reality is great, and retail provides a number of exciting possibilities for these new technologies.

Technological advancements are catapulting the retail industry forward into an exciting new future. The power of these innovations is reshaping buyer behaviour and the shopping journey.

Leveraging for Loyalty

Strong customer relationships are the backbone of brand loyalty. Customers expect certain interactions – such as timely feedback or updates on special discounts.

In fact, brand interactions on Twitter increased 250 per cent over the last few years. But humans have their limitations. This is where AI excels.

In 2016, Twitter launched bot-like features in its direct messages, allowing brands to deliver automated responses to canned questions.

Recently, however, the technology has expanded beyond your typical question / answer format. For example, pizza mogul Domino’s rolled out a tool allowing customers to check the status of their order as well as receive deals and promotions. The company expanded to Facebook Messenger where customers can now order and pay without ever leaving the app.

Extending beyond bots, social media is empowered by artificial intelligence.

Thanks to image recognition, brands can not only analyse every mention, but can literally see how they’re being portrayed through the various images and videos shared daily.

These social listening tools allow social media managers to monitor sites for specific keywords, hashtags, or comments.

Brands can then reply directly to users. It can also be used to collect and re-share user-generated content (UGC). Audi’s social media department is the perfect example of interacting with customers via UGC. The company encourages owners to share posts of their automobiles that the brand then reuse to curate a customer-centric and relevant Instagram collection.

UGC retail

Social listening is a win-win for both brands and customers – users feel that the brand cares about their experiences while the company receives compelling (and free) content.

From chatbots to social tools, these simple interactions provide users with a personalised experience as well as overall brand satisfaction.

Customer Experience Empowerment

Artificial intelligence is expected to revolutionise and improve customer service. And according to one study, AI bots will account for 85 per cent of all customer service interactions by the year 2020. After all, shoppers crave the immediate and convenient experience chatbots offer.

Customer service, however, demands a personal touch and empathy. As such, a great chatbot is one where the customer is unable to tell whether they’re talking to a machine or a human.

Thanks to machine learning capabilities, chatbots will be able to grow their knowledge and understanding – becoming emotionally intelligent and quick in processing queries.

While chatbots are one of the biggest examples of current technology (and we’ve already discussed how chatbots can build brand loyalty), it’s not the only use case for AI.

In fact, one of the greatest benefits of using AI in retail is the enhanced customer experience it brings.

More brands are leveraging emerging technologies to improve online customer experiences. In fact, 55 per cent of retailers are adopting AI to optimise customer experiences.

Macy’s On Call mobile shopping assistant uses IBM Watson's machine-learning and cognitive-computing technology to assist shoppers as they wander through Macy's department stores.

machine learning retail

The retailer has been dabbling with various technologies for a few years, having experimented with indoor GPS navigation in 2012, when it installed beacons in its NYC flagship store

Just two years later, Macy's expanded its use of the location-based technology to all of its US stores. The implementation was praised as the largest beacon deployment in a retail setting.

Smart Shopping

Augmented reality has the potential to reshape the retail environment, making it more immersive and efficient. The nascent technology not only lets shoppers view digital representations of products before they commit to purchasing, but they can also learn more about what they’re buying, see additional options not available in the physical location, and get instant recommendations.

One of the most prominent examples of customers interacting with mixed reality comes from IKEA. The Swedish retailer has been a fan of VR for years – which says a lot about its corporate vision and the impact and value of VR and AR.

Via the company’s app, you can see exactly how a specific piece of furniture would look and fit within your space.

Lowe’s has also jumped on the mixed reality bandwagon, investing in VR experiences to reinvent kitchen visualisation and design.  

Deciding on which couch or kitchen appliance would be best is just the beginning.

Adidas has partnered with Microsoft Kinect to build a body scanner that sits in their physical stores. With the help of a trained employee, customers are scanned head-to-toe, allowing them to virtually try on clothes.

virtual reality retail

The global sports brand is also building smart technology into its dressing rooms for a more interactive product experience.

Once you’re scanned, you can try on clothes virtually regardless if you’re shopping in the store or at home.

Adidas isn’t alone. Ralph Lauren, Gap, and Uniqlo are just a handful of companies that have all eliminated the hassle of trying on numerous articles of clothing.

Cashierless Commerce

We would be remiss to not include Amazon-anything in a mixed reality article.

In December 2016, the company first teased of an automated store – swapping cashiers and checkouts in favor of AI and cameras that detect the products you select. The day has finally arrived for the “just walk out” technology.

Launched in January, Amazon Go is the physical manifestation of the retail giant’s 1-Click checkout where customers simply “click” by taking an item off the shelf.

mixed reality retail

Upon arrival, you launch the Go app (available for iPhone and Android) and connect to your Amazon account. You’re assigned a code that identifies you and anyone else you want added to your bill.

Once in, AI algorithms track you and everything you pick up and “purchase”.

While the exact technology being harnessed isn’t known, machine learning and computer vision definitely help make this experience seamless.

The benefits are obvious — no waiting in line or fussing around with self-checking machines – and it’s a new way for Amazon to gather intensely valuable information about its core customers.

The Future is Now

Virtual and Augmented Realities have many promising applications in the world of retail. From building a brand image to creating virtual experiences for customers, including these technologies extends beyond the novelty.  

The continued development of these disruptive technologies – combined with increased retail competition – will result in fundamental changes to the retail sector.


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