For centuries, discovery and exploration have been primal to human beings. Like Marco Polo, humans have an insatiable need to see and know more about the world. The need to explore the new, to learn about the different, has driven humans to discover faraway lands. The imperative to explore has inspired humans to innovate – building boats, airplanes, rocket ships – to get there.  

In the world of retail, customers also crave exploration and, while there is much to offer online, the customer’s ability to truly experience the product, place or activity has been limited. What they crave is to get closer to a product or place, rather than simply viewing a two-dimensional image on a computer screen or mobile phone. They want to explore a store or hotel or beach, to “touch” a product, to see a catalogue spring to life.

This is known as augmented reality, or retail immersion therapy. It is where the retailer offers the customer the ability to immerse himself in the shopping experience.

Virtual reality and 3D technologies allow customers to “try on” clothes without having to remove their own clothes, or try makeup with no messy face-cleaning needed afterward. They can design their ideal kitchen virtually, while sharing their experiences with friends and family. They can test Dulux paint colors on a wall without having to paint over the ones they hate, and can even order the paint samples via the app.

Technologies such as Microsoft’s Hololens, an untethered, holographic computer, allow customers to augment reality while in store. Holiday companies can help potential to immerse themselves in an exotic country or locale in order to get a feeling for whether they would enjoy it. A Canadian company, through virtual reality googles, allows customers to design the perfect patio. 

Catalogue-based vendors can use 3D technology to make their products come alive; IKEA enables customers to see how a piece of furniture will look, or fit, into a room by using augmented reality to “size” the furniture on an app.

Once cast as gimmicks, these kinds of technologies are becoming commonplace in retailing, offering customers a much more satisfying and exploratory way to see a world full of products.  After exploring your products further their knowledge increases and this smooths their journey towards making a purchase.

While technology can offer this augmented reality or real-life immersion it is important for retailers to realize that connectivity to its inventories and IT systems, plus the ability to automate and respond in real time, is necessary in order to capture the retail moment. Providing customers with the ability to explore requires a digital business platform to help you to realize the full benefit.  Only then can your customers go the full Marco Polo.


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