Transformation of retail: Immersive technologies during lockdown

In store traffic has plummeted dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered all shopping centers to shut down. However, their performance indicators began declining even before that. First vice president of Crocus Group Emin Agalarov noted a decrease in traffic in their shopping centers by 50% in the last week of March. Afimall City reported similar disappointing statistics – attendance from March 1 to 22 decreased by 15.6% compared with January and February.

In these circumstances, many retailers are hoping to offset their offline losses by e-commerce. That segment’s growth was unanimously predicted by 71% of British marketers. But brands need strong advantages to be able to compete effectively; one competitive edge is immersive technology.

Immersive solutions use digital means that bring the online shopping experience closer to visiting a regular store. They include 3D-visualization and virtual fitting rooms. Retailers have been making occasional attempts to introduce such solutions over the past five years, but they have remained an exotic feature rather than scalable projects fit for widespread use. It seems that their heyday is only just beginning.

Digital transformation of retail

Simeon Siegel, Managing Director and Senior Analyst at BMO Capital investment company, believes that people working from home during the coronavirus lockdown are spending more of their off time with their computers. And the more time users spend online, the higher the chance of grabbing their attention and encouraging them to buy.

Coronavirus may trigger the development of online retail, similar to what happened in 2003 when the SARS epidemic prompted the growth of the e-commerce market in China. For example, since March 2003, Alibaba, a B2B e-commerce platform, has gained 4K new members who posted 9K ads every day, which is three to five times more than before SARS.

Retailers are using immersive technology to create a customer experience closer to an ordinary store visit. BA&SH, a French brand from the premium segment, is launching its collections in the interactive 3D View format. BA&SH Chief Digital Officer Alexandra Nervi noted the importance of the fact that users can get a closer look at high-quality materials and designs in 3D images with a 4K resolution by rotating and zooming the images with one touch of a finger. Cappasity is also offering a similar technology.

Immersive shopping solutions

AR and 3D technologies are changing the way customers are making purchases both online and offline. Considering that in 2020, some 100 mio users around the world will be buying using AR and 3D content is part of any AR scenario, its importance is hard to overestimate. Below are the most promising trends in immersive shopping.

Interactive 3D visualization

For retailers, it is an opportunity to demonstrate their products in 3D and AR both on their websites and in mobile apps. Users can have a detailed view of any product in 4K resolution and transfer it to the physical environment using augmented reality technology. It ensures a good user experience that is closer to the traditional shopping tour than pictures and video clips.

It is noteworthy that the speed and cost of the 3D content production depend on the technology. For instance, if it is made by hand using 3D modeling, the digitalization of each product will cost hundreds of dollars. But it will be much cheaper to use, for instance, the Cappasity format that creates 3D images out of video and photo materials.

Virtual dressing room

A solution that enables to determine the body size using machine learning and computer vision. It enables shoppers to try on clothes virtually rather than physically. Retailers not only win customer loyalty, but also increase conversion by 5%-30% depending of the product and season. Being able to have a detailed view of the product, buyers will return purchases more rarely.

Virtual showroom

Virtual showrooms give customers a better opportunity to assess the quality of materials and design of clothes than photos, and can empower them to make faster purchasing decisions without needing to visit a physical showroom. Photorealistic 3D images show the product from all sides and can put it in the physical environment using AR.

Virtual stylist

A solution that helps take clothing measurements performs color analysis and assesses physical characteristics to develop offers for choosing clothes. As a rule, users only have to upload several photos of them. The images will then be processed with the use of computer vision algorithms. An online shop that uses such solution creates looks automatically based on available products and collected measurements.

The system will create a look using clothes, footwear and accessories provided by the shop, with all of them fitting the size and color type and offering a fashionable and stylistically clever combination.      

Lockdown will help retailers go through the crisis and move to a new level

According to a study by Gartner, a major research and advisory company, retailers that have superior customer experience will have growing trade turnovers. In other words, brands that are easy, convenient and cozy to cooperate with are much more successful. A customer is willing to examine the product the way he or she usually does in a shop by seeing it from different angles, zooming the image in/out, and assessing the texture and color shades. Introducing immersive technologies is simply essential for delivering the best customer experience.

It is already obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic, or more specifically, the global lockdown will prompt e-commerce to grow and provide additional motivation for using immersive technologies that improve customer experience. The question is how fast retailers will adapt their strategy to the new reality.

By Konstantin Popov, CEO of Cappasity

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