Bricks to Clicks and Back Again

When you need to buy something, what’s your first thought – walk into a store, or buy online? Research shows that most people don’t fit neatly into either of these categories. There are more factors at play – factors that affect how people shop, and which make the case for integrated solutions in fashion retail. Is VR the holy grail of shopping? Will it make brick-and-mortar stores obsolete?

The answer is not a simple yes or no.  Research on the globally rapid adoption of online shopping reveals surprising results. Most people still prefer to shop in-store rather than buying online, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom that online shopping is the be-all and end-all of fashion retail. A staggering 76% of shoppers still prefer to shop for apparel in brick and mortar stores. But consumer behavior has changed. Combining convenience with experience is the new way forward, says a recent study by InReality. It revealed that 75% of shoppers use their mobile phones in stores to boost their shopping experiences. Herein lies a massive, untapped opportunity. Research has already shown that consumers are open to buying just about anything online, provided that the right experience is delivered. VR/AR is the next step in delivering such in-store experiences to customers at home or, well, in stores.

Although still in its infancy, 55% of consumers believe that VR e-commerce will impact their buying decisions. 62% are interested in trying VR shopping. Nearly a quarter plan to buy a VR device in the coming year. Many consumers now do their research in-store, not online, and a quarter are using their mobiles to make purchases while inside physical stores. Traditional retailers need to bring virtual experiences into stores to capitalize on this market. A third of consumers say that they would shop more with retailers that offer a VR experience, and a quarter say that VR would encourage them to purchase more online.

The attraction of virtual fitting rooms can’t be denied. They enable customers to try and buy, without once ever physically trying things on. They save time, boost engagement, and enhance brand image. The desirability to consumers is clear, but retailers also benefit tremendously. Using virtual mirrors and VR/AR in store, brands can stock less inventory while gathering data on consumer behavior – what works and what just doesn’t. For e-retailers, these benefits are even more pronounced, resulting in far fewer product returns and much better inventory management. But neither of these approaches independently deliver the perfect shopping experience. The need is for hybrid models that combine the ease of online purchases with the reality of physical experiences. More and more physical stores are establishing online presences, and now e-retailers are venturing into brick and mortar. When it comes to such hybrid retail models, Virtual Reality not only holds the most promise, but also the most excitement.

Having a mobile app is no longer enough – enhanced technology is making all the difference. This is where VR/AR steps in to neatly fill the gaps, delivering seamless experiences with convenience. As time goes on, consumers will gravitate towards complete brand experiences, regardless of physical or virtual location. Tick the right boxes and one gets happy shoppers, happy retailers.