Sizzle Of The Week: AR/VR’s Retail Gains
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have spent much of 2018 generating buzz as a potential tool for retailers looking to bridge the digital/physical gap and deliver an all-encompassing, omnichannel shopping experience. Retailers and merchants — big and small — have come running to the tech. Some of the luminaries on the field include Target, Walmart, Amazon, eBay, Macy’s, Ikea and Airbnb, all of which have made some type of notable AR/VR move in the last year or so.
AR/VR technology itself is not all that new. As observed in the inaugural edition of the Digital Consumer Report, a PYMNTS and Samsung Pay collaboration, the underlying concept of AR/VR has been floating around for over a decade. The technology existed but it was not sophisticated enough to be considered viable for commercial use until recently. Without high resolution screens and a lot of cloud-based computing power, AR images simply aren’t clear, flexible or detailed enough to be useful in a commercial context.
But, in the era of the cloud — and ever improving screens, memory and power on phones and other devices — that hurdle is falling away and the technology is becoming more accessible and useful, particularly when paired properly with the right AI and machine learning (ML) applications.
This week, it is fair to argue that it is actually sizzling, as opposed to its normal MO of growing quickly, but mostly quietly.
Macy’s caught the bulk of the headlines this week, with the announcement that it is adding AR/VR tech to its furniture and beauty experiences to facilitate discovery. VR for furniture is first on deck for wide rollout, with Macy’s making it available in 69 U.S. locations by November. The new technology will allow consumers to choose from a series of room templates (or bring their own snapshot of a room for redecorating), in which they can place virtual furniture. The experience is immersive enough that consumers can use it not just to see the room, but also “walk” around in it as well.
“There’s a lot of estimating you’d have to do in store — even more so online. That’s the customer problem we’re trying to solve,” Macy’s president Hal Lawton noted.
When Macy’s piloted the program earlier this year, they saw basket size go up by more than 60 percent and saw returns plummet to 2 percent.
In beauty, about 50 Macy’s stores have been tapped to house virtual mirrors that will allow customers to “try on” 250 make-up products without having to actually put anything on their face. The mirror can also be used as a checkout station that allows customers to order up and pay for their make-up. According to Nata Dvir, executive vice president and general business manager for beauty, consumers seem to be more interest in using the mirrors to try on makeup, but are less interested in using them to pay.
“[The beauty customer] doesn’t want endless choice — we can give her the right types of options she’s looking for,” she added.
While Macy’s upgrades are very frontend and public, they weren’t the only firm announcing a very big embrace of AR/VR tech this week.
Walmart also is pushing big into the area, though the news this week will not be visible to most customers. Walmart announced it will be sending Oculus Go virtual reality headsets to every U.S. store location as part of a VR-based employee training system it announced last year.
Going forward, every Walmart Supercenter will have four, and every neighborhood market and discount store will have two. They start shipping next month, and Walmart says that over 17,000 headsets will be in stores by the end of the year.
The headsets are designed to give employees a full training experience with 45 modules — most of which would be difficult to create physically. Trainees can experience what a Black Friday shopping rush is like, or they can get familiar with new technologies coming to stores before they actually arrive.
One module features using Walmart’s pick-up towers. According to Walmart, the modules are not long, nor or they designed to be terribly difficult — they are there to help employees get a physical feel for issues they will likely encounter in-store, before they actually experience them.
This week’s announcement followed news at the end of August that Walmart has filed two patents which would enable consumers to shop from home in ways different from today’s eCommerce experience.
One of the filings describes a VR headset “paired with sensor-laden gloves that would allow consumers to interact with a Walmart store in a virtual world,” according to CB Insights. The second patent involves a system in which robots, working in a fulfillment center, would locate items on shelves as consumers use VR technology to put goods into virtual baskets. The robots would then place those items into containers for shipment.
“These fulfillment centers would also utilize smart shelves to monitor inventory in real time,” according to the patent.
A patent filing is not a guarantee the product will ever be built or put into use of course — plenty of patents are filed protectively — but it does show that Walmart, among many others, is increasingly looking at AR/VR, and wondering how to build it into all kinds of retail experiences.
The technology, by most accounts, is going to continue to move forward.
Among Samsung’s current pushes into the virtual world is an app created in collaboration with cosmetic brands Sephora and CoverGirl. The offering allows shoppers to virtually “try on” makeup, using their devices’ front-facing cameras, and, with the help of Samsung’s digital assistant, Bixby, virtually apply cosmetics to their faces. The products can be selected from an in-app list of Sephora items, allowing users to test them before committing to a purchase with Samsung Pay.
Macy’s is also showing a similar instinct with its virtual mirrors, which, when paired with an AR app, will make it easy for customers to use their phones to try on and buy make-up, and even purchase it on subscription.
Much of that is still in the works, as consumers are still new to the technology, even if the technology itself isn’t really that new.
Same-day ACH: NACHA expanded the offering to all FIs and customers, and expanded a number of service offerings. There are new rules in place as transaction windows are expanded by two hours a day and transaction limits are increased to $100,000. Funds availability speed is expanded for some transactions and ACH credits. Same-day ACH transactions logged a 243 percent increase in the second quarter of 2018, measured year-over-year.
Nike: Controversy sells, it seems. The retailers saw a 61 percent rise in sold out products in the 10 days since the infamous Colin Kaepernick ad debuted than had been seen in the 10-day period prior to the ad.
Alipay: Growth continues for Alipay as the active user count hits 700 million, and that is sizzling growth of more than 200 million users year-on-year. The data was unveiled at the company’s investor day, along with other data that showed continued traction amid new tech capabilities. The company said, too, that Ant Financial has extended credit to 11 million small businesses.
Amazon Probe: The European Union has begun a probe into how the eCommerce giant treats merchants who sell their wares over the firm’s platform. The Wall Street Journal reports that regulators have sent out questionnaires to those merchants, with an eye on whether competitive advantage is gleaned through data collection.
Danske Bank: Turns out the money laundering scandal is likely to have a huge impact, as analysts estimated this past week that fines may be as high as $8 billion. Amid the numerous probes opened into how as much as 234 billion euros could have been laundered through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015, Danske’s CEO has resigned.
Adecco: There is a slowdown ahead for the staffing firm, as European hiring goes from six percent growth at the beginning of the year to around two percent now. Mixed results, to be sure, even after the company said earlier this year that geopolitical and macro concerns (read: trade war) had not been denting demand for workers.