Offering an immersive experience while shopping is now a necessity to drive more consumers to stores.
Virtual and augmented reality are expected to play a bigger role in driving more shoppers to stores as the physical retail real estate keeps combining with the digital world.
More traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are using interactive in-store displays, three-dimensional product catalogs and mixed-reality environments to help survive the pandemic and changing consumer shopping habits.
While the simple ability to shop on a website has pulled shoppers out of stores in recent years, industry executives now say the use of digital techniques can create new retail experiences. And the pandemic has accelerated a shift toward retailers considering immersive digital experiences to be a necessity, said Silke Meixner, a digital strategy partner at tech company IBM.
"With people not being able to travel to go to the shopping outlets, it forces retailers to put their features up online," Meixner said at a virtual session at the annual South by Southwest tech, film and music festival and conference this week. "The omnichannel experience needs to be as seamless as possible for customers to know immediately what it looks like. They need to see the store before they go in person and have the ability to share it with others."
Some ways to pull off an immersive environment include creating personalized messaging to shoppers and getting them involved in telling their story with a particular product.
"Content is no longer a push model from brands to consumers, it needs to be created together with consumers," Meixner said.
Tony Parisi, global head of augmented reality, virtual reality and innovation for San Francisco-based Unity Technologies, expects retailers to create experience centers with expert consultation centers such as the Capital One Cafe, which acts as a bank branch and a branded place for Capital One customers and visitors to grab some coffee and have a more relaxed, chatty experience while meeting with clients over what can be a stressful topic, personal finances.
"Brick-and-mortar has to be less about acquisition fulfillment, with e-commerce companies like Amazon doing this at the speed of thought," said Parisi, considered a virtual reality pioneer in his field, at the SXSW session. "As soon as the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, I think people will return to these centers. Don't count brick-and-mortar out, but I do think it will change."
The Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States, announced Capital One Cafe plans to expand its concept within a 6,700-square-foot space inside the mall. In all, Capital One operates more than 40 Capital One Cafes throughout the United States.
"Between omnichannel and experience, the lines between media and retail are blurring," Parisi added.