The Supply: Emerging technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality are reshaping the retail industry


Emerging technologies are changing the retail industry at an unprecedented rate. Industry watchers predict that the global market for IoT (Internet of Things) hardware for retail applications will total over $94 billion by 2025.

The virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market in global retail is expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2025, according to research by the ICX Association.

Walmart and Target continue to invest in technological innovations to manage their growing omnichannel businesses. As early as 2017, Target used augmented reality technology to let shoppers see what furniture would look like in their own spaces using smartphone cameras that interacted with Target’s website. Target also tested the virtual makeup application online and in select stores. Walmart is using virtual reality to train employees using VR glasses that transport employees through situations such as working on Black Friday and cleaning up hazardous spills.

But since COVID-19, demand for all kinds of technology has exploded, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research.

“We’re seeing years of innovation in a matter of months,” she said.

For example, with the closing of fitting rooms in physical stores last year, the concept of contactless fittings has become a priority for some retailers. Brookfield Properties, a major shopping center operator, said last year it planned to add 3D body scanners that allow consumers to see which brands and sizes will suit them best.

Walmart recently announced the acquisition of virtual dressing room startup Zeekit for an undisclosed amount. Zeekit founder Yael Vizel, a former captain in the Israeli Air Force, said her “Eureka moment” happened while she was using telecommunications software to map the Earth’s topographies. She said the human body is like a topography with mountains and valleys. She founded Zeekit five years ago and developed the app which was first used by Macy’s and tested by many major fashion brands.

Last year, Zeekit almost doubled its workforce to 40 to meet demand. Vizel said when shoppers can virtually try on clothes before making an online purchase, the average return rate drops from 38% to around 2%.

“Virtual fitting is a game-changer and solves what has always been one of the hardest things to replicate online: understanding how an item fits and looks on you. Zeekit will help us deliver a inclusive, immersive and personalized to our diverse customer base,” said Denise Incandela, Walmart’s top apparel executive.

Zeekit’s technology uses real-time image processing to map a person’s image into thousands of segments. Clothing is treated the same, and equivalent points of both are mapped in a final simulation, Incandela explained. She said Walmart believes Zeekit’s technology is scalable and can also be used to create other fashion experiences, including the ability to create the world’s largest virtual closet and mix and match clothes in different ways. transparent.

“These exciting technologies add a social element to the digital experience, allowing our customers to bring their unique personalities and preferences to shopping,” Incandela said.

Gartner estimates that nearly 100 million consumers will benefit from an augmented reality shopping experience in-store or online this year. ICX notes that as retailers begin to take advantage of technologies such as augmented and virtual realities, they will provide more personalized experiences and bring products to life.

Ed Durbin, global director of retail solutions for VMware and researcher for ICX, said the shopping experience has evolved significantly in recent years – from bots that can identify shoppers’ shopping habits to experiences of immersive virtual reality experiences through the growing popularity of online shopping and picking up in stores.

He said technology will drive the future of retail as consumers demand that their shopping experiences improve. Retailers are increasing their resources at an unprecedented rate to minimize friction with customers, improve customer experience and improve overall efficiency.

Retail businesses that take advantage of emerging technologies such as augmented reality/virtual reality, IoT, and mobility can deliver more convenient, engaging, and personalized experiences. Those who fail to adopt these technologies will fail to meet the growing demands of consumers and employees.

Michael Paladino, co-founder and CEO of Bentonville-based RevUnit, told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that retailers are starting to incorporate augmented reality. The increase in BOPIS (online purchase, in-store pick-up) is driving this innovation.

“We are working with one of our retail clients on an in-store experience that replaces printed labels in the aisles with digital displays,” he said. “Screens will display labels and additional product content for employees and consumers. The idea is to eventually deliver AR/VR content through these screens to improve the customer experience.

He said RevUnit had also worked with a retail client who needed to integrate knowledge base access into the day-to-day activities of their field workers.

“To solve this challenge, we built a chatbot — an AI-powered virtual assistant that relies on a vast employee knowledge base,” Paladino said. “All employees have to do is pick up their device and verbally ask a question. A few seconds later, the answer is provided.

While the demand for AR/VR technology applications has never been stronger in retail, Paladino said one of the challenges for the industry and developers is the lack of clean data and content. aggregated. He said efforts require clean and accurate underlying data.

Charu Thomas, CEO of Bentonville-based tech startup Ox, said retailers continue to be challenged by inventory accuracy at the highest level. She said that in stores, multiple people have the ability to touch on-shelf inventory — customers, employees, third-party service providers and vendors. She said methods for accurately tracking inventory in retail stores are often infrastructure-heavy, whether it’s robotics, computer vision, smart shelves, cameras or even drones.

Thomas said COVID has heightened the urgency for retailers to increase online shopping, resume in-store operations in addition to expanding delivery options. She said Ox is working with companies to build technology tools that enable faster fulfillment as more stores are micro-fulfilment hubs in an omnichannel world. She said Ox technology could also be integrated with robotics and machine learning to improve pick rates with optimal accuracy.

“The time to test these emerging technology applications is up,” Thomas said. “Companies that want to be more competitive in this new world need to take action and try to leverage technology with their business operations to improve back-end performance and when it comes to customer-facing applications.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The side section offers of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the businesses, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.


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