Extended Reality (XR): The Future of Immersive Retail

It’s not often that we discuss extended reality (XR): the broader term that combines all immersive technology under one umbrella, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and mixed reality. XR is defined as an environment or experience that combines virtual and physical realities through the use of computer or wearable technology. 

As we start to witness more brands integrating these digital tools into their retail strategies, it’s important to unpack how to take advantage of XR technology to improve user experience and elevate your eCommerce and retail experiences.

Johan Walters

Why is XR so important for retailers to have on their radar? 

With brands like Woolworths South Africa, which recently launched their new virtual makeup try-on feature, and Shoprite piloting CheckersRush a shop without tills, run on AI and computer vision. It’s clear that in the competitive retail landscape you need to deliver incredible user experiences to help you stand out. Technologies such as AR can significantly improve customer experience, shorten the traditional path to purchase, reduce product returns and improve brands efficiencies at scale. It puts your audience in control and creates a tangible environment where customers get to interact and engage with your products and your brand. 


In 2018, Shopify launched Shopify AR  – a built-in feature that allows merchants to produce 3D models and videos of their product range through the Shopify Expert Marketplace. According to Shopify’s internal data, they reported that by adopting 3D product modelling and AR into your eCommerce environment, you can increase your conversion rates by up to 250% on product pages. Implementing a ‘try-before-you-buy’ experience can significantly boost consumers’ purchasing confidence and reassurance during the purchasing journey which subsequently increases conversions. 


What are the top XR trends to look out for in 2022 and beyond 

  • Content commerce – Platforms such as AiBuy merge commerce with media, transforming your content or media into a shoppable experience. This enables shoppers to complete their purchase directly from an ad, social media content or a video, without having to leave the platform to complete their purchasing journey. This not only adds an interactive element to your content but also significantly shortens the traditional path to purchase. 
  • Product visualization through 3D product modeling and AR – Boost your customer’s purchase confidence by allowing them to interact with your product in a more realistic and tangible way. This is the gateway to helping your customers visualize and engage with your products before making that purchasing decision. 


What challenges are South African retailers facing when it comes to adopting XR into their retail strategies?

  • Price perception – The perception is that this kind of tech is too expensive or too costly to do at scale so brands never look into it or do their research on what options are available.
  • Stock levels – Retailers with significant stock or product lists may think that it will take a lot of resources to implement, however, this is quite the opposite. Platforms such as NextechAR make it possible for retailers with larger SKUs to create 3D product models at scale, using a single product image or more. 
  • Market readiness – Retailers may believe that the South African market is not ready for this kind of tech which can be viewed as a challenge as opposed to an opportunity for them to create a more user-friendly and user-centric shopping experience. The focus shouldn’t be on the tech but on creating solutions to improve the customers’ experience – which the market is 100% ready for. 


What advice do you have for retailers looking to participate in an XR-driven future? 

  • Adopt a test and learn culture  – Start testing and learn from it. Set aside a testing budget that will allow you to be in a position where you want to test and you actually have resources allocated for it. 
  • Research tools that are already available – Do your research to find the best solution to integrate into your retail environment. You may not need as many additional resources to leverage this tech.
  • Be strategic about your adoption – Assess your product range to identify which products users need to experience in an immersive environment. For example, you probably don’t need to create a 3D model for products such as toothpaste or certain FMCG. However, products such as furniture, fashion items or makeup will need a more tangible element in order for users to experience and visualize before purchasing.


Final thoughts

Stay relevant and keep researching and testing new technologies that can elevate your customer’s experience. This kind of tech is no longer unattainable or too expensive to adopt locally. There are a number of tools that are readily available to support retailers’ XR ambitions. Consider adopting AR as the next step in your retail strategy and shopping journey in order to add a more tangible, interesting aspect to your retail and eCommerce space.  Brands should get used to working with this kind of technology as they are all building blocks to play in the metaverse.

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