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AR and VR shopping: a peek at the future

Looks like the consumer market is split in two: those interested in using AR and VR in their shopping and those who aren’t. Image credit: The Insider Intelligence Shopping Survey 2021

Shopping is partly “need” partly “fun” (and for some, partly” compulsive”). If it is a response to a need any technology that can help in taking a decision would surely help the customer. If it is for fun any technology that can increase the emotional feeling will be a hit.

Augmented and Virtual Reality have the potential to be a crucial and distintive factor in both cases: they can supplement information in a clear way to help understanding a product (including understanding it in the context it would be used) and take a decision; they can provide an emotional involvement increasing the fun (even to addiction point!).

Where are we in terms of actual adoption and of expected adoption? A just published report (focussing on the US market only but of general interest) by Insider Intelligence shows that AR and VR have still a very marginal role in the shopping experience and most of the time they are focussing on providing additional information rather than expanding the emotional feeling.

This might be a reason why there is a higher percentage of usage by the male population (my -very personal- interpretation). There is also a marked different in adoption, and in the intention to adopt, in different age ranges with the youngster much more interested in these technologies.

I have tried a number of shopping apps that exploit AR, like the Ikea one (possibly one of the first to experiment with AR) but none have really made a difference. We are still at the first stages of practical use.

This is bound to change, I expect, in the second part of this decade. Whether we are going to have seamless mass market AR/VR devices is still a big question mark, however the progress in image recognition and image rendering through artificial intelligence will be able to deliver a much more seamless and engaging experience. At that point even the ones that have downplayed their interest in AR/VR in their shopping experience (around 50% in the Insider Intelligence poll) will, most likely, change their mind.

It is a chicken and egg issue: the more AR/VR will be delivering an added value to the shopping experience, more and more people will be using it, That will prompt sellers to offer more, and better, AR/VR experience thus further increasing the interest of consumer. I expect to see the inflection point (defined as the time when we will no longer be talking about AR and VR in shopping since it will be a “normal” experience) by the end of this decade.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.