Retailers MUST Be Future Oriented

When children’s organic food manufacturer Happy Family wanted to reimagine the retail aisle, the stakes were high. “We looked at how people shop this section,” says Riddhish Kan- kariya, Happy Family’s vice-president of strategy and insights. “Do they shop based on brand, on organic versus non-organic, on type of food, or on age?”

To answer those questions, Happy Family turned to virtual reality, creating four scenarios to gather data from 800 shop­pers. “There is no way, if we had not done this virtually, that we’d have been able to get these numbers,” Kankariya adds. While it may seem that Happy Family reached into the future, virtual and augmented reality are already transforming retail from store design to signage.

“It’s definitely one of the hottest technologies right now,” says David Evans, commercial director of Kantar Retail Virtual Reality. “It’s hot in the marketplace, but it’s not a fad. VR has been around for a long time, so it’s had time to mature.” “Retail­ers need to look at virtual reality not as some addition, but as how the Web is going to evolve,” notes Mary Spio, founder of CEEK VR. “When we first started working with brands to do online video, we had Web 1.0—just text, pictures. The brands that embraced video early could attract a wider user base. That’s the same way that retailers can and should look at virtual reality.”

The world has been waiting for hardware to catch up—and some major manufacturers released virtual reality devices in 2016. As that happens, more customers may expect virtual and augmented reality when shopping online. “The next step will be to move to V-commerce, which will become a part of the omnichannel strategy,” says Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions, which focuses on shopper insights via virtual real­ity. “‘Can I jump in and look at the ingredients or parts of the product? Can I actually put it on and see what it looks like in a different scenario? It will help with some of the shortfalls in E-commerce, upselling, cross-selling, and providing a more engaging and individualized experience.”

Happy Family’s research is just the beginning of how companies use—and plan to use—virtual reality. Working with InContext, Kankariya sees more possibilities. “When we showed the virtual technology to our CEO and founder, her first thought was, ‘There are so many ways we can use this to test packaging or design. So many ways of engaging with our audience,”’ he remarks.

“At the macro level,” says Hardy, “it starts with store design, the flow, the adjacencies, and extends down to the micro level, product, category, displays, and signage. There are two levels for retailers wanting to create a new store. They can take the current footprint and play around with it, to reinvent the experience in current stores. Or they can create an entire new building footprint.” There are reasons to do so virtually. “If you create it in a physical world, your competition knows what you’re doing before you understand the impact of the strategy.”

And without having to build fixtures or stock a single product, retailers can allow “customers” to “shop” a virtual store while measuring their behavior and what, how and why they buy.

Augmented reality “is adding a layer of the virtual realm to your reality, immediately delivering an enhanced experience that provides unprecedented value,” comments Yoni Nevo, CEO of augmented-reality-visualization platform Cimagine. “It can give the consumer contextual information, showing products before purchase, thus enabling the consumer to have confidence to make a more informed decision to buy faster. The ability to add the virtual layer to a user’s reality provides significant value to brands, retailers, and manufacturers.”

Source: Barry Berman, Joel R Evans, Patrali Chatterjee (2017), Retail Management: A Strategic Approach, Pearson; 13th edition.

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