Alexandre de Vigan, CEO, Nfinite.
Today’s consumers want to know exactly what they’re getting before they make a purchase. But this often isn’t possible when they shop online, where many e-commerce websites still display static and incomplete product images that don’t tell the full story.
This means trouble for many retailers. When consumers can’t see what their item looks like from all angles and contexts, they’re more likely to return it because it’s not what they had in mind. This causes online retailers logistical challenges, increases operational costs and decreases customer loyalty.
On top of this, online retailers are in a never-ending battle for consumers’ attention, facing fierce competition not only from other e-commerce sites but also from visually optimized platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Staying relevant in this era has never been harder, and the old ways of selling simply will not cut it anymore.
That said, there are a few immersive technologies—CGI and 3D imaging, augmented reality, AI and automation—that can help e-commerce companies to convey their merchandise’s full look and feel. In this article, I’ll look at how these technologies work, how they will redefine the shopping experience in 2024 and how e-commerce companies can get started with using them.
Immersive retail means happier customers.
AI in retail is expected to reach $24.1 billion by 2028, growing at 24.4% annually. That’s because AI can impact the shopping experience in several ways.
For example, consider virtual assistants and chatbots. Generative AI enhances natural language understanding and response generation, which allows virtual assistants and chatbots to converse more seamlessly and with more context awareness. These virtual assistants can be programmed to be conversant in every language, opening retail businesses to a truly global marketplace.
Advances in immersive technology also unlock greater potential for personalization. For example, customers can use product visualization tools to personalize products according to their preferences, such as choosing colors, patterns and designs. Take Nike, for example. Nike By You allows online users to create their own custom shoes by choosing between myriad colorways, materials and styles. In short, customization can enhance the sense of ownership and personal connection to the product.
New technologies are also bringing change behind the counter.
AI technology is reshaping the way retail gets done on the business side as well as the customer side. Chipotle has an algorithm to forecast tortilla chip demand and, concurrently, is rolling out a robot named Chippy to prepare the chips. Sam’s Club uses AI algorithms to decide how many Key lime pies it should make based on the weather forecast and other factors like inventory status.
Augmented reality opens new horizons.
Another technology with transformative implications for e-commerce is augmented reality, which includes the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and 3D-rendering technologies. These immersive tools offer far more visual information than traditional product photography.
Unlike flat 2D photos, with 3D visualization, retailers can update, refresh and adapt product images for highly personalized and dynamic customer experiences. CGI not only keeps product imagery current and in line with market trends but also enables customers to engage with merchandise in a more immersive manner.
Many sales are lost at the point when uncertainty creeps in. Eliminate that uncertainty, and conversions happen more often. For example, my company’s recent survey found that 50% of shoppers are more likely to purchase a piece of furniture if they can visualize it in their space using the camera on their smartphone.
Strategic Steps for Embracing Immersive Technologies
Retailers looking to leverage technologies like AI, CGI and AR should begin by taking a series of strategic steps. The first should be to clearly define your objectives and how these technologies align with your business goals. This involves testing out specific use cases and areas where AI, CGI or AR can enhance customer experiences and streamline operations.
For instance, consider an online retailer of home decor and furniture. The retailer may want to explore the use of an AI-powered recommendation system that analyzes a customer’s browsing and purchase history to suggest the right throw pillows to match their couch or the perfect scented candle to complement the season to help shoppers discover hidden gems in the product catalog.
The next step is identifying the right tools and vendors that best fit your needs. Each technology may have unique features and capabilities, and retailers must prioritize those that will have the most significant impact on their business operations.
Once you identify the right tools and technologies for your business, the next step is implementing them successfully. This is often one of the biggest challenges. Retailers must carefully plan and execute each step of the process to ensure that the technology is effectively integrated into their existing tech infrastructure and operations. This might involve the need to build API integrations to automatically ingest the data generated by these technologies.
Another key requirement is employee training and upskilling. Workers should also be adequately trained to use new technologies to their full potential. Failure to do so can greatly diminish the expected benefits and ROI.
Finally, ethical and legal considerations should also be top of mind for retailers, especially when deploying technologies like AI. For instance, guardrails should be set to ensure that AI algorithms do not discriminate against any group of customers based on characteristics like race, gender or age. And retailers should establish mechanisms for holding AI systems accountable for their actions. If a customer experiences a negative outcome due to an AI-driven decision, there should be processes to investigate and rectify the situation.
When implemented correctly, immersive retail promises a better shopping experience for customers, in which they find what they want, know that the images they see online will match the item that arrives on their doorstep and get recommendations for products they didn’t even realize they wanted.
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