Personalization, customization technologies gaining clout in retail
by Elliot Maras
As retailers invest more aggressively in omnichannel marketing, technologies that help personalize the shopping experience — such as virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing — are being deployed both online and offline. And as retailers recognize the potential of kiosks to support omnichannel marketing initiatives, interactive kiosks are offering personalization technologies, as well.
Virtual shopping and shopper personalization were twin themes during the recent CES show in Las Vegas. A pair of sessions, “Shopping as a virtual adventure” and “My personal shopper,” addressed these themes during the Hi-Tech Retailing Summit on day two of CES.
One takeaway from both sessions was that VR and AR allow shoppers to “try before you buy,” for instance, seeing how a furnishing will look in their home before deciding to make a purchase. The technology has already proven effective for Macy’s, said Alan Smithson, CEO of MetaRVse, who sat on the “Shopping as a virtual adventure” panel.
Smithson, whose company provides VR and AR consulting services, said Macy’s has improved furniture sales and reduced its product return rate, thanks to its VR shopping tool.
Macy’s pioneers VR for shopping
The Macy’s VR experience allows customers to design and experience the interior of a room for which they are purchasing furnishings. Shoppers map out the dimensions and shape of the room, then select the items they want from Macy’s furniture assortment and place those items in the room.
Customers can refine the design as desired and test it virtually by stepping into the room with the aid of a VR headset that allows them to walk around the furnishings. Macy’s CEO and chairman Jeff Gennette, speaking at last year’s ShopTalk show, said the company plans to expand the technology to 60 locations .
Smithson said that Mall of America also used VR to improve traffic during the winter holidays.
Panelist Jenna Blaha, technology and fashion editor at Elle magazine, talked about the challenge the retail industry faces in educating people about new technology.
The most effective way to accomplish this, she said, is to let people tell interesting stories about it. To this point, Smithson said that consumers will learn about AR as they use their smartphones, which are being built with AR capability.
VR drives mall traffic
Joanna Popper, global head of VR for location-based entertainment at HP, said retailers’ overriding challenge is to generate traffic for both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores. To this end, she said, VR solutions providers have worked with malls to create VR experiences that drive traffic.
Dave & Busters used VR to simulate the experience of riding a rollercoaster, which proved to be a cost-effective way to drive a lot of traffic to the store, said Popper, whose company provides the technology for these solutions.
She said customer surveys have proven that VR is driving traffic to the malls, since many of the customers using the VR were first time visitors.
Tom Emrich, a partner at Super Ventures, an early-stage fund dedicated to AR, pegged VR and AR spending at $27 billion this year.
3D printing personalizes shopping
In the personal shopping session, Larry Schwartz, CEO of Aetrex Worldwide, a footwear retailer, described how 3D printing is being used to personalize the shopping experience. Aetrex uses a foot scanner that integrates cameras and pressure centers to capture data about a customer’s feet, enabling the production of customized orthotic inserts for their shoes.
The technology allows the customer to get the proper-fitting shoes and orthotics together in one visit, Schwartz said. The technology also collects information about customers that the retailer can use for marketing purposes.
Panelist Andrey Golub, CEO and founder of VR provider Else Corp., said that VR, AR, mixed reality and 3D technology have ushered in an “era of mass customization.”
To the technology mix, panelist Heidi Forbes Oste, CEO of digital technology consultancy 2balanceu, added artificial intelligence. AI, working in tandem with digital technology, will empower consumers to make better purchasing decisions, she said.
Panelist Sebastian Guillon, president of global beauty at J&J Consumer, said personalization does not signal the end of brands. Schwartz agreed, adding that personalization and customization offer tools to elevate brands.