Why HBR is wrong on VR/AR and retail

Having spent a little time studying the prospects for Augmented Reality, I think it’s an extremely exciting space.  The prospects for greater efficient, safety, and enhanced education experiences especially seem to be both unambiguously positive and soon within reach.

But I’m not so bullish about the impact in retail.  And when I read HBR’s piece, Virtual and Augmented Reality will Reshape Retail, I remained unmoved.  I can imagine that VR and AR will manifest in retail, but their influence will be much less profound than in healthcare, say, or education, or even real estate sales for that matter.  Consider the examples cited in the article:

Your camping trip is coming up. You and a friend go shopping for a tent. Spotting one you like, you both crawl inside to check the capacity. But there’s something unusual about this scenario: You’re in Boston. Your buddy is in Houston. And neither of you is anywhere near a sporting goods store.

Which is all well and good, but how frequently do you find yourself making a major (or even medium-sized) joint purchase with someone else while separated by a great distance?  And then, there’s this example:

For instance, a virtual makeup mirror could quickly learn consumers’ preferences and show them new looks without requiring them to wait at the makeup counter.

Well, it could, but that already exists and does not seem to have reshaped a great deal.  (And isn’t it the expert advice from an actual human that we want?).  Virtual mirrors?  Meh.  If you’re in the store, wouldn’t you still want to try the garment on before you buy it?  I know I would.

Retail’s great problem is consumers are buying online, and using retail stores as showrooms.  Can Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality fix that?




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