Supermarkets One To One. The next VR game?Posted: May 27, 2016
In my last posts I tried to foresee what could be the future of retail in terms of shopper interaction, from augmented reality, predictive recommendation throughdigital personal valets, or e-commerce automated recurring purchases. In this one I will cover the topic from a completely different perspective.
Some say that wandering the supermarkets aisles is something people are still willing to do in the future, that’s why an Augmented Reality solution (Watch the latest demo of Microsoft HoloLens here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p0BDw4VHNo ) will help them to maintain their shopping habits (not sure about Millennials or Gen Zs willing to do it, though).
Every year, retailers spend a non-negligible amount of money in order to organize the shelves at every supermarket.
There is a lot of work analyzing shopper data in order to group products based on need units, shopping missions or even shopper segments that will ideally make people buy more, more often. And, due to the fact the space is always limited, define the right product assortment is crucial in order to maximize sales of well performing products, or take the underperformers out in order to push innovations in.
If Microsoft HoloLens is the most advanced device for Augmented Reality solutions we can say Oculus Rift is the equivalent in VR (and maybe the HTC Vive, too). VR implies you stand up at home, (or even walk still) and navigate a three dimensional, computer generated environment as if you were in a real world. You move your head, the view moves, you walk in real life, you walk in the virtual. Even sound is 3D.
Gaming is the first use case for VR systems, where you can shoot zombies in a stunning immersive experience. Entertainment in general will benefit from this technology, with the possibilities to watch 3D generated videos (real footage recorded in 3D, but without the ability to “walk” freely in the virtual world, only in a Google Street View mode).
What if retailers decided to create their virtual supermarkets?
In Second Life there are already some virtual supermarkets, and the current rendering technology is capable enough to build aisles, shelves and products, it’s more a question of user experience. Adding a navigation device as the Oculus Rift is perfect for that, and connecting the virtual world with the retailer’s e-commerce shouldn’t be a problem, neither.
Let’s think for a moment there is a retailer investing in this skeuomorphic approach (rebuilding a full hypermarket in 3D so their clients with VR headsets could buy the products from their homes as if they were physically there).
Then the space limitations of the shelves are gone, we could build virtual endless shelves so we could put all the products we wanted, something like this:
The truth is it’s not very convenient to navigate an endless shelf finding the right product among hundreds of references, more or less the same feeling when you are going to that huge suburbs hypermarket. Maybe smaller assortment supermarkets don’t have every brand or format you need, but it’s saving you a bunch of time on Saturday mornings when doing the weekly purchase.
So shelves should definitely not be infinite, and retailers would still need to spend some money to choose the optimal assortment for their new virtual supermarkets. This process will typically start by analyzing huge amount of data in order to determine how people shop a specific category looking for specific need units and substitutive products. But usually the result of this work is a specific range, typically by store clusters, not even by specific stores (as it has big logistic implications). These limitations do not exist in a 3D environment.
So every single shopper could see their own shelf configuration, with their own product range, and their product layout. All personalized. In fact, it’s just about digging in purchase history and lookalikes’ purchase histories, and generating one configuration per customer.
This might be the near future for some shoppers. The thing is, like in every skeuomorphic approach, that new generations don’t need a visual help similar to the real world because they don’t know (enough) the real world. Other forms of interaction will arise, and voice will probably be one of them. But that, my friends, will be a topic for a future post.
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