Future generations will look at the 2000s as a rapid advance of tech, from believing that entering the year 2000 would break every single computer in existence (fondly known as the Y2K Scare) to famous celebrities figuratively “breaking the internet” with a well-placed selfie. Our understanding of technology has advanced with the times, and so have our shopping habits. No more dialing in to pay $19.99 (excluding shipping) for a new TV knife you don’t need. Now, it’s made even easier. Just point, and click.
Malls. Are they dead, or has “the buying and selling of goods or services using the internet” (Shopify’s definition) changed the nature of retail & business into a new beast altogether? Well, let’s look closer at what ecommerce is first.
Ecommerce. Electronic commerce. The marketplace of the internet. It’s hard not to envision an internet-selling giant like Ebay or Amazon as a giant, tented market brimming with strings of code, data, and pixels instead of spices and cloth. Simply defined, it’s just a transaction. Some kind of currency exchanged for goods and services, you’re just making this transaction on the internet. A digital exchange lends itself to the ability for technology to further influence your dealings. Like…
Artificial Intelligence and XR.
First, Artificial Intelligence (AI). No, it’s not just Siri or Cortana, though they’re immensely helpful. The dictionary specifically defines AI as: “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”
Spooky? Maybe. However, when business dissects what AI can do for them, they often speak of it in terms of it just being “an algorithm” that takes large amounts of data and breaks that down into neat packages of streamlined information. And yes, it was coded into a program by a human.
How does that translate to your shopping experience? Well, according to Linnworks, the digital devil is in the details, and all these modifications are so subtle that you might not even notice them as they guide you to buy new products. The “you might like”… tab, for example. Similar images popping up that a business might sell as a package. The filters in a search bar personalizing what emerges as a potential sell. (Keywords like “winter jacket” will most likely keep rain jackets off your feed). And the ever-present buzzword lately: “personalizing” your experience. (Because we’re all chasing authenticity in the social media age, right?) In simpler terms, a budding fashion mogul would be redirected to this season’s latest trends and accessories, and a foodie would get a recommendation for cookbooks and kitchen appliances.
So, in essence, AI in e-commerce aims to streamline the customer experience. Now, how about XR?
XR, extended reality, includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality. How are online sellers implementing XR in their business strategies?
The retail industry’s already experimented extensively with AR (Augmented Reality) specifically. According to Telegraph businesses use AR to:
- Place products to examine in real space. E.g. a virtual car showroom. Seeing models walk down a virtual catwalk.
- Customers can attend brand experiences, e.g. live concerts or art galleries, without leaving their neighborhood (telepresence)
- Try on products personally. E.g. 3D model of sunglasses using a filter. New hair dye or lipsticks to see how the shade looks on you without “test” samples (which aren’t always readily available).
And it doesn’t end there. According to Toptal, customers still enjoy a tangible experience of being in a physical store. So, how have XR and online sellers collaborated to remedy this?
By creating, in VR, simulated environments that are made to resemble the online market’s physical stores. Want to walk down a grocery aisle and pick up a bottle of shampoo? Do that with a VR experience. Or, are you in a physical store but want to have added “bonus features” using AR? Simple. Point your phone at a potential product and have useful information, like nutritional info of a protein bar, for example, displayed on your screen.
RetailDive aims to answer if all retailers are ready to dive into XR. Interestingly enough, streaming platforms like Hulu are using VR theater experiences (watch with your friends!) to get people to download their app. Ikea lets you place their furniture in your house to see how it’d look before you buy. However, before retail invests too much in the budding XR sector, more consumers are going to have to adopt a device that’s compatible with these apps. Until then, retail will rely on a few simple truths when it comes to shopping experiences. Keep the quality, quantity, and the convenience of the customer in mind as it is developing.
*** written with Sophia Whittemore