Get real! Why VR in stores is just a distraction.


I was pleased to read a recent eConsultancy piece that contained some critical appraisal of some of the recent retail tech hype out there, particularly around Beacons and VR. I won’t bang on about beacons again here, suffice to say that both they and VR fall short of the mark when ROI, shopper adoption and need are considered.

VR is PR

A certain type of marketer is drawn by the latest showy tech, and this magpie tendency is rarely based on any more than geekery and love of the new, fed by PR baiting campaign led thinking from media agencies. Fortunately none of our retail clients are asking for this kind of thing, because there are much bigger jobs to be done in stores right now. 

Yes, VR can entertain, it can draw crowds, but it is just that, a distraction and a side-show from the real power of digital technology to transform the physical shopping experience and store operations. 

Where is the real opportunity?

eCommerce is forcing a change in physical retail thinking – either because the store now has to compete with online, or because the store now has to operate in a multi-channel operations/customer journey environment, or both. The answer is often not the digitisation of the existing experience and approach (e.g. digital posters replace paper posters, VR product demos replace product brochures), but actually the re-thinking and re-engineering of the role of the physical store within the context of digital disruption of commerce and comms. 

By that I mean entirely new digitally enabled approaches such as store analytics, single customer views, personalisation of in-store experience and the creation of more efficient and seamless cross-channel journeys. Yes, that might include the use of new tech like beacons, but what will really change and transform retail on large scale won’t be showy visible tech like VR or AR.

What are the real game-changers?

I think the real retail game-changers over the next couple of years will be fairly behind the scenes and data driven. They’ll use existing, ubiquitous and scalable technologies. The foundation will be joined up back-end content, stock, CRM and payment platforms. The customer facing elements will be ‘thin layer’ mobile web experiences, on-device mobile payments, WiFi and staff devices. Go forward three years and this will be supported by RFID enabled products and maybe a smattering of low profile in-store digital signage and touch-screens. That’s just my opinion, and one quarter in I’m still standing by my 2016 Retail Tech predictions.

The power of behind-the-scenes digital

Physical retail is going to be transformed by technology, there is no doubt. But by its very nature established high-street retail is going to change slower than web based commerce. Moreover, the vision for physical stores is perhaps one where traditional and established store channel benefits (brand experience, tactile/sensory and human/emotional interactions and dialogues) are cleverly and subtly supported by behind-the-scenes digital technology, not pushed aside by ‘shock and awe’ immersive screens and VR experiences or flooded with invasive push marketing via beacons.

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