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Reshaping Retail with Virtual and Mixed Reality Innovations

September 25, 2023
by Dorian Frayssinet, Account Executive, Varjo

At Varjo, we regularly talk with leaders across industries to explore how they could better take advantage of virtual and mixed reality. While professional virtual and mixed reality applications are developing by leaps and bounds, many industries are still only starting to realize the potential of this technology. One of the largest industries with enormous untapped potential is retail.

In this blog, we explore our latest findings on challenges and opportunities that virtual and mixed reality hold for the retail industry.

The Stigma of Low Quality VR of the Past is Holding Development Back

The stigma associated with early VR experiences has lingered in retail. This is because many key stakeholders have negative experiences from the past. Those who have looked into the technology during the past decade have experienced issues like motion sickness, poor visual quality and color reproduction, and overall subpar user experience that failed to have a sufficient return on investment. Many brands still hesitate to explore and adopt VR, assuming these problems persist. 

However, many of these challenges have already been solved by industry-leading players like Varjo a few years ago. In the automotive industry, immersive technologies are now a daily tool for designers, confirming that the technology has reached a performance level suitable for design use cases with high visual demands. Future-oriented brands are now starting to realize modern mixed and virtual reality can meet their needs, and they’ve started exploring different areas where these technologies can bring the most value.

Challenges Related to Design and Customer Experience

The challenges immersive technology is great at solving for the retail industry can roughly be divided into two main groups: internal and external. Internally, VR/XR can bring a lot of value to the design of products and retail spaces, while external challenges VR/XR can solve are all about the customer experience.

Online store challenges
Many retail brands have 3D digital twins of their products but are underutilizing this asset, limiting the items’ representation in true scale and detail.

Challenges in Retail Space Design

Designing retail spaces is a complex endeavor that demands collaboration between designers and management, with challenges often arising from accurately communicating the designer’s vision and getting designs validated. Traditional 2D presentations can fall short when it comes to conveying store concepts accurately, the inability to visualize spatial dimensions being one of the biggest issues. 

To solve this issue, retailers might use physical store prototypes so they can visualize designs in three dimensions. However, building prototype stores is extremely time-consuming and costly. The lead time to get them built is long, and they are environmentally unfriendly because all the materials are discarded after the prototype has been used. Shifting retail space design more extensively into digital models in virtual or mixed reality can reduce these costs to a large degree: often by several dozen percent.

Challenges in Product Design

Product and package design are incredibly crucial activities for brands across product categories such as consumer packaged goods (CPG), electronics, and fashion. Although product design is done digitally, it is still mostly constrained to 2D screens and depends on producing multiple variants of physical prototypes at different stages of the process. This limits for example, remote collaboration and slows down iterations. But this doesn’t actually have to be the case.

For example, many fashion brands already have 3D digital twins of their products, but they are not utilizing this data in a 3D environment. While detailed 3D models exist, they are being viewed on 2D screens, placing limits on displaying the items in real-life scale and detail. This digital twin data would already yield itself to many different applications. For example, designers sitting in different locations around the globe could easily collaborate on designs using VR or XR, reducing the need for physical mockups, if brands simply leveraged the data they already possess further.

Early Experiences of VR for Retail Offer Limited Customer Interaction

The third piece of the challenge is providing interactive experiences for customers/buyers. Most VR experiences in retail have been passive, lacking interactivity. They’ve mostly been restricted to the customer passively viewing a product. Customization and personalization have been lacking: for example in fashion and apparel, it has not been possible to experiment with different color options, sizes, etc. so that the digital products would be tailored to the specific user viewing the experience.

These experiences suffer from the lack of intuitive user interfaces as well. Most shoppers are entirely unfamiliar with extended reality technologies, so making them use things like external controllers is going to turn many of them away from these experiences.

Mixed and Virtual Reality Speeding Up Design and Increasing Interactivity and Sales

More Intuitive and Interactive Customer Experiences

Mixed reality can make customer experiences far more interactive then they’ve been so far. Digital items can be viewed in the real world, as a natural part of it, and the user can see them in lifelike scale, manipulate them or easily zoom in to specific details for example. Viewing different product variants and customization options is also easy, because they can be shown instantly, in lifelike visual quality, without the store needing to carry every single variation of the product in stock. 

Immersive technology offers a great solution for minimizing the “passive waiting time” customers spend in the shop. In the luxury retail space, where the shopping experience is as crucial as the product itself, the time customers spend waiting or not actively engaged can be a deterrent. VR/XR tools can seamlessly bridge these gaps, ensuring that customers are continually immersed in an enriching, interactive experience.

Virtual and mixed reality in retail

Virtual Design and Prototyping

Mixed and virtual reality, coupled with 3D design software, offers a game-changing solution to store design. Retail layouts can be planned far more efficiently, accurately representing the lifesize dimensions of the actual store. This approach accelerates iterations and reduces the amount of slow-to-build physical prototypes. Designers can provide management with an immediate grasp of the designs, regardless of whether they have a design background or not. Digital prototypes also enable designers to make requested changes in real time, further speeding up the process.

Empowering B2B Sales

The retail industry is not just about business-to-consumer interactions. A huge part of the industry is B2B sales. While data systems have improved and made the process more efficient, for example purchasing is still done largely in the same way as it has been for decades: a purchaser might visit the supplier in person or receive some sample items, then decide what to purchase based on those. Immersive tech has the potential to revolutionize this process, and simplify the purchasing process a lot. 

Take retail chains and fashion brands as an example. Using virtual reality technology, the retail chain’s buyers could interact with digital twins of the brand’s products, allowing them to seamlessly inspect even the tiniest details, check out the different items in a new product line, see all color variants, etc. reducing the need to put their hands on physical samples or visiting the supplier in person. This can drastically reduce travel while retaining the ability to evaluate products in detail. This efficiency can transform the way business transactions occur and speed up the buying process.

Innovative Product and Packaging Design

Doing design work in XR and VR for retail allow for rapid iteration of product and packaging designs. While it might not be practical to completely eliminate physical prototypes, digital prototyping can help filter out less promising options before a few of the most promising designs are chosen for building physical prototypes. This can drastically reduce costs and speed up the product development process. 

New Insights Through Eye Tracking

Eye tracking technology (which is incorporated into all Varjo headsets) opens new possibilities for retail research. Brands can analyze what products or colors attract the most visual attention and understand customer behaviors within a store. This data-driven insight can inform strategies for enhancing product displays and store layouts, as well as guiding product and packaging design further. 

It Isn’t Too Late to Become an Early-mover in XR and VR for retail sector

These are just a few examples of how virtual and mixed reality can provide value in the retail industry. The integration of XR and VR for retail sector is only beginning to unveil its immense potential. 

Forward-thinking brands are exploring these technologies to transform store and product design, create interactive customer experiences, and optimize business processes. Embracing these innovations will not only set brands and retailers apart but also reshape the retail landscape as we know it. 


Want to learn more about using XR for retail? Reach out to the expert team at Varjo.


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