In the age of hyper-personalization, brands are constantly looking at ways to engage customers by experimenting with emerging technologies to help shape their experiences. In a customer-centric sector like retail for example, where creating engaging experiences is inevitable at every step, technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are helping brands connect with customers at the deeper level in order to shake up the customer experience by individualized offers, targeted product offering and even virtualizing merchandise in-store. A 2018 Gartner survey predicts that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store. It is expected that retailers will drastically adopt immersive technologies such as AR-VR to offer customers a unified retail experience inside and outside retail stores. In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Raghu Polisetty, Managing Director, Global Digital Delivery Lead, Accenture Advanced Technology Centers, explains the various ways AR-VR is transforming the customer experience journey with specific focus on retail. He also informs how Accenture is helping retailers innovate with AR-VR technologies.
CXOToday: How do technologies such as VR, AR and other immersive technologies connect with customers at a deeper level? And how are they transforming the customer experience journey?
Raghu Polisetty: We are on the threshold of a compelling, expansive and imagination-inspiring time in which our experiences and our reality are being extended through the merging of the physical and virtual worlds. Immersive technologies are changing how we connect with information, experiences and each other.
Consider the way Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) – which we collectively refer to as Extended Reality (XR) – have evolved. By placing people directly into an immersive setting, XR delivers first hand experiences unlike other technologies. It will usher in a completely new dimension to customer experience, combining convenience with realistic interactions to better engage with customers more meaningfully, and at virtually every touchpoint.
CXOToday: What are the biggest risks/challenges for taking AR-VR to the mainstream, especially in a sector like retail?
Raghu Polisetty: As with all new, rapidly-developing technologies, immersive technologies will also bring challenges. However, XR will test companies across sectors with a deeper set of challenges that touch upon mental health and social cohesion. We’ve identified four main risks:
- Misuse of personal data: Personal and intimate data including people’s feelings, behaviors and physical likeness could potentially be exposed to cyber theft and manipulation.
- Fake Experiences: Immersive experiences may make it difficult for people separate reality from fiction, in turn making it far easier to influence behaviors, opinions and decisions.
- Cybersecurity: Not only could avatars be used to create new forms of identity-related crime, but ransomware and extortion risks will rise as more critical tasks, like surgery or engineering, become dependent on smooth, real-time XR procedures.
- Antisocial behavior: Trolls could go from intimidating with words on social media to physically intimidating targets in a virtual world with avatars. And undesirable behavior that is normalized in a virtual environment can creep into real-world behaviors.
These risks can be mitigated, however, if businesses implement safeguards while developing their XR capabilities. These include instilling a culture of responsibility amongst workers and technologies, drawing on the expertise of diverse experts in ethical design, and empowering workforce.
CXOToday: How is Accenture helping customers innovate with AR-VR strategies?
Raghu Polisetty: At Accenture, we have a dedicated XR practice that works with our clients to envision, create and deliver impactful XR experiences that fuel business growth. Specifically, we focus on leveraging XR to improve customer connections and experiences,optimize employee training and performance, improve customer connections and experiences, and develop new digital products and services.
Our approach is combines leveraging human-centered design principles, deep industry knowledge, global scale, and technological expertise in areas that support XR, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Additionally, we continually invest in new XR capabilities that enhance and complement our own offerings, through strategic acquisitions, dedicated labs, and collaborations with industry leaders.
CXOToday: Where are these technologies heading to in the near future?
Raghu Polisetty: Extended reality has brought to life exciting realities for consumers, and businesses are also now embracing these technologies for a more immersive future. This path forward is comprised of several areas:
- Devices– Currently, the market is flooded with multiple – often expensive – XR devices. This has become a key barrier for enterprise adoption. In the future, we expect a considerable change in pricingand standardization of AR-VR devices along that offer better visual experiences and are compliant with industry safety norms for enterprise users. Additionally, technologies like ARKit 3 will enable more XR experiences for end users on existing mobile devices.
- Interface & Integrations – Today we have to develop separate interface experiences for each type of device. With the adoption of an open XR standard, developers will be able to create a single experience across devices and manage/manipulate the user touch points with a single framework.
- Content/Experience Creation Tools –Today, this area requires specialists and niche content and experience developers, as each experience needs to be built from the ground- up. With the adoption of XR standards and frameworks, this paradigm will change, making development more accessible.
- Infrastructure/Content Distribution Model– Currently there is a strong dependence on high-end devices for content development, deployment and testing. And for enterprise applications, poor network availability has limited the adoption of XR solutions. With the proliferation of 5G and edge services, most of the content deployment and access will resolved for immersive experiences for both enterprises and consumers.
CXOToday: What is the scope for AR-VR in the retail space? Do more opportunities exist for in-store experience or ecommerce?
Raghu Polisetty: Enterprises are often challenged with customers’ ever-shifting expectations and a rapidly changing marketplace. Customers are willing to engage and buy from brands where their experience is immersive and hyper-personalized.However, demystifying customers’ specific needs continue to be complex and time-consuming for many organizations.
While there are certainly opportunities for extended reality in the online retail space, we’re also seeing interesting use cases for the in-store experience, from layout design to customer engagement. For example, we recently partnered with Qualcomm and Kellogg’s to develop and pilot a solution that embeds eye tracking technology in a VR headset to unlock critical consumer data and perform market research.With this solution, we revealed far deeper behavioral data than standard testing, which typically relies on online surveys and in-home user tests. In fact, the new data led to an entirely different merchandising conclusion than what was determined by traditional methods. Insights like these allow businesses to better attract and engage customers around their products.
CXOToday: What should decision makers keep in mind from the broad spectrum of technology, when they plan to implement an AR-VR strategy in their retail organization?
Raghu Polisetty: The retail industry has already started adopting AR-VR for enhanced customers engagement and enterprise adoption. That said, in order to be successful, I’d recommend approaching these technologies strategically: don’t dive into widespread adoption just for the sake of embracing what is “new.” Instead, first give careful thought to the specific challenge you are solving for to determine if VR or AR offers the best technological solutions, and then consider how it can be realized.