Applications of VR and AR in Shopping
Augmented reality has found a place in shopping, as well as full-fledged virtual experiences. Retailers large and small are deploying their own AR apps to be used in the home, in the store, or both. The largest and most cutting-edge vendors are utilizing the technology to provide an amazing, novel, and beautiful shopping experience to their customers. Here are some of the best ways the technology is being used today.
Lowe’s VR Holoroom
One of the most dramatic uses of virtual reality in shopping can be found at home improvement chain Lowe’s. At a select but growing number of participating stores, homeowners can utilize an Oculus Rift head-mounted display to virtually explore their dream kitchen or bath.
Billed as a “digital power tool”, the Lowe’s Holoroom is a full-featured solution that takes customers from designing their room using an online tool, to exploring it in the virtual world from a Lowe’s location, and even publishing it as a 360 YouTube video.
The application is a wonderful example of the ways that virtual reality can make shopping easier, above and beyond the novelty inherent to the technology. CAD drawings can only go so far to provide a sense of place when designing a room. The ability to virtually enter the drawings, at scale and with total freedom of movement, is a new and exciting way to create the perfect home.
The Holoroom is one of the first examples of a social VR app. Leveraging the popularity and accessibility of YouTube 360° videos, Lowe’s essentially has the best of both worlds. They can wow their paying customers with an unforgettable trip into the virtual world, while still leveraging the power of social sharing to let those same customers bring their friends to the table.
Shiseido AR Makeup Mirror
A very early application of augmented reality in shopping still stands as one of the most effective. Cosmetics maker Shiseido, which sells its products at department and beauty stores like Macy’s and Sephora, tackled the age-old problem of choosing the right makeup in a unique way.
Constructing “digital makeup simulators”, essentially large touchscreens shaped like cosmetics mirrors and installed in retail stores, Shiseido has been able to provide virtual beauty consultations to hundreds of thousands of clients since 2011. The simulator automatically takes a still photo of the user’s face as they sit down, using an advanced face detection algorithm. The software then digitally applies makeup to the photo, makes recommendations, and allows the user to experiment with the full range of Shiseido products without ever cracking open a jar.
What Shiseido has managed to do is successfully replace the age-old institution of the mall beauty consultant with automated software. By doing so, they standardize their brand messaging, provide an even level of quality across all their retail locations, and allow shoppers to create their own look in a fun, DIY, tech-assisted environment.
By couching the augmented reality in an installation taking the form of something very familiar, the makeup mirror, Shiseido lowered the bar to entry for shoppers of every kind, no matter how tech-averse. The digital makeup simulators were a huge success, and they are emulated by other brands to this day.
Yihaodian AR Stores
On the opposite end of the augmented reality shopping spectrum is the very dramatic, even stunning way Asian grocery retailer Yihaodian employs the technology.
As an online shopping site in the traditionally brick-and-mortar grocery space, Yihaodian has engaged in a constant battle for brand awareness and market share. In 2012, the firm leveraged augmented reality to bring that battle into the real world in a fresh, imaginative way.
In October 2012, the firm announced they had opened 1,000 stores in the blink of an eye. The stores are tagged to physical locations such as landmarks and, brilliantly, in front of competitor supermarkets. However, they exist only in the virtual world, and can only be accessed through the Yihaodian mobile app.