Retail Augments the Virtual World for Customer Delight

2016 was a significant year for the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) industry. New headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were introduced in the market, taking consumers deeper into the energy zone of immersive innovation. The greater part of virtual reality content was centered on gaming and excitement, and the blended reality substance was constrained.

While VR and AR are often confused to mean the same, there’s a fine line of distinction between them. Virtual reality (VR) is a digital simulation of a real environment in which a user can interface and respond. Augmented reality (AR) overlays PC produced tactile information over a real domain.

Taking cognizance of these two technologies is the retail industry. VR, alongside its sister innovation of expanded reality or AR, offers retailers an opportunity to change the way consumers shop. A customer can try on clothes through a virtual avatar without the need to visit a brick and mortar store – through a VR channel. Another customer may be able to arrange furniture across his floor in a virtual environment to ensure an ideal set up – through an AR channel. Either of the two applications aims to make shopping a more pleasant and profitable experience for consumers by providing that customized touché. But the end focus of a retailer is one and the same – to provide an effective consolidation of VR and AR into retail models that can make stores without boundaries.

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VR/AR bridge physical shops & e-stores

There is a growing demand for VR and AR applications from the retail segment. Newer entrants roped in about $658 million in financing in 2016 alone. A few market studies also peg the retail industry’s interest in AR/VR technologies and applications at about $30 billion by 2020. Incomes in the worldwide retail segment are anticipated to ascend to $28 trillion by 2019, with an annual growth rate of 3.8% since 2008. Retail online business is expected to hold at least $3.578 trillion of that offer – or 12.8% of retail buys. These numbers prove that despite the prevalence of online shopping, physical stores are here to stay. Hence, it is important for retailers to strike that fine balance between an online store and a brick and mortar shop; to execute this, there is a dire need to understand what works best for which segment of consumers – especially at a time when VR/AR is still at its nascent stage in the mainstream market.

For one, retailers need to choose the best innovation for every application. VR inundates the shopper in a recreated world. It requires the shopper to own a solitary innovation, such as a headset and controller. While VR is more exciting, it still hasn’t made the cut with the larger consumer base that predominantly uses VR for gaming. In today’s market, AR is a better option, this especially considering the success of Pokemon Go. Since it overlays images that can be viewed through a smartphone or tablet, it makes for easier adoption and adaption in the current world.

A retailer also needs to consider if an application is for in-store utilization or out-of-store utilization. In-store applications will require a customer to collaborate with AR or VR inside the real confines of a conventional shopping condition (for instance, the business floor or trial area) or through store windows. Out-of-store applications allow consumers to test intended objects for purchase from a remote location, such as their home. For instance, a customer sitting at home could try out how furniture would look in their room by visualizing it using these applications.

Virtual Reality tech of leading brands

Try-on/dressing rooms

Topshop has partnered with Kinect to create augmented reality dressing rooms. These rooms enable shoppers to virtually try on clothes and quicken purchase decisions. Converse sampler application uses augmented reality to help shoppers try on shoes virtually and visualize its look on their foot.

There are many interesting patents filed in this space. Ebay has been delving into this technology space, developing intelligent VR technologies for a better showroom experience. Take for instance its two patents US 9378593 B2, and US 20160165989 A1 that describe methods to provide a three-dimensional view of a virtual avatar and customize a garment’s fit across a virtual image.

Japan-based Seieren Co. has also applied for a patent grant for its invention filed against US 20160240002 A1. This patent describes the use of a fitting support device that assists a customer to select suitable clothes and apparel. This process is done by capturing the image of a customer and acquiring color characteristic data on user’s skin color using this data. The body shape of the customer is detected and three-dimensional body shape data is acquired. The three-dimensional body shape data is colored according to the color characteristic acquired. A color pattern data is captured using clothing data. An image where a customer is wearing a clothing item is synthesized using the acquired data.

The figure from US 20160240002 A1 illustrates a device that performs fitting support for a customer using an input device to perform various operations

Figure 1 from patent US 20160240002 A1 illustrates a method that provides apparel fitting support to a customer.

Make-up simulation & mirrors

It’s not just clothes, but make-up too that is leveraging AR/VR platforms. Take for instance L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius. This AR application negates the need for customers to dab on samples of makeup shades on their wrist. Instead, they can try on a multitude of shades on their virtual avatar, sans the mess of cleaning up. Popular cosmetics maker NARS has leveraged the Facebook 360 platform which allows them to experiment with makeup shades on their mobile devices. This is extremely useful for customers who prefer online shopping.

L’Oréal’s patent demonstrates the simulation of the appearance of lashes on a user’s face. Various simulation parameters of the fringe can be selected by the user to appropriately visualize it on the acquired image of their face. The user can also purchase the desired product.

The figure in US 7773091 B2 shows a simulated image of a user’s face over which the various parameters for fringe simulation can be adjusted.

The figure in US 7773091 B2 shows a simulated image of a user’s face over which the various parameters for fringe simulation can be adjusted.

Japanese personal care company Shiseido has conceptualized a makeup mirror that leverages AR technology to help a shopper visualize makeup options. Disclosed in two interesting patents – WO 2009011402 A1 and US 7499076 B2 – is Shiseido’s inventions of methods to capture a customer’s facial image and allow for testing of various make-up shades.

The figure in US 7499076 B2, shows a device to provide support and counseling for applying makeup.

The figure in US 7499076 B2, shows a device to provide support and counseling for applying makeup.

The above image of  Samsung's patent number US 8908904 B2, demonstrates the selection and testing of various products on the acquired features of a user’s face.

The above image of Samsung’s patent number US 8908904 B2, demonstrates the selection and testing of various products on the acquired features of a user’s face.

 

Samsung has also forayed into this space with a patent US 8908904 B2. The patent describes a technology that allows one to capture an image using a portable device such as a digital camera. The application detects points of focus for the makeup and allows the user to virtually test a multitude of shades.

Object simulation in environment

Microsoft and Lowe’s are piloting a project that will bring Microsoft’s HoloLens to select Lowe home improvement stores. Shoppers can view design options for their kitchens, countertops, appliances and other requirements using the HoloLens before making a purchase choice. Microsoft’s patent application US 20140132595 A1 describes this technology while waiting for a grant in this popular AR tech space.

The customers can visualize real and digital objects merged using HoloLens headset.  Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/microsoftsweden/15716942894/

The customers can visualize real and digital objects merged using HoloLens headset.
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/microsoftsweden/15716942894/

IKEA is piloting its virtual reality kitchen experience for HTC Vive on the Steam gaming platform, while IBM’s AR application was launched to help shoppers browse through detailed information of products on shelves. This application has been leveraged by Tesco to plan product placement on shelves.

Oracle owns an interesting patent US 9524482 B2, which describes a method that provides a three-dimensional view over a head mounted device. The user can virtually place objects over a retail space layout before finalizing on the design and décor.

Advertisements & navigation

AR and VR have permeated practically every industry. Advertisements can’t be far behind too. In a bid to attract customers and show them the down under, have begun offering shoppers a VR experience of runway shows which allows them to walk behind the scenes with models, virtually. Simultaneously, Carnival Corp. has partnered with Samsung and AT&T to offer shoppers at various AT&T stores a virtual carnival cruise experience. The promotion also offers the customers to win an actual cruise on one of Carnival’s ships when a customer purchases one of Samsung smartphones at the AT&T stores.

Microsoft has filed for a patent grant for an interesting AR technology recorded in its publication US 20160196603 A1. This patent application describes a method that provides customers with a set of see-through head mounted displays. The system takes cognizance of the user’s past shopping patterns and personal interests. It then customizes product information, offers and advertisements to showcase via the display system as the customer browses through shelves.

The digital era with e-retail brought on by majors such as Amazon and Ebay have enhanced product choices and ease of shopping for consumers the world over. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are taking this to the next level by bridging the gap between virtual and physical stores. This is likely to toughen the competition between online retailers and brick and mortar stores, considering the boost it gives to customer engagement. After all, customer delight is the key to a successful venture.

(The featured image is only for representational purpose and has been mildly modified within the limits of the Wikimedia Commons License. The image as been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Intel_3-D_graphics_architect_Nola_Donato_shows_augmented_reality_dressing_room.jpg)

Vasundhara Bhatia
Vasundhara Bhatia

Vasundhara is a computer science engineer who is always keen to be updated about latest technology. She enjoys watching sci-fi programs and loves dancing.


Rahul Sharma
Rahul Sharma

Rahul is an Electronics & Communications engineer, and a seasoned professional in Intellectual Property management. When he isn’t enjoying the solitude of solo trips and exploring places of religious importance, he’s holed up watching cartoons and wrestling matches, especially of UFC and WWE.


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