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The Evolution of Physical Retail Space in a Virtual World

What is the role of the physical retail store in an increasingly virtual world? From shops to let to established stores, emerging technologies are transforming brick-and-mortar retail outlets into places that you go to for a unique experience. We’ll take a look into some of the new property formats which are sweeping through the retail sector.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is right at the intersection of retail and technology. It’s a computer-generated environment that’s overlaid on the real world, adding graphics, feedback and sounds to create a mixed reality incorporating both physical and virtual elements. AR helps to create an interactive customer experience, generating buzz and foot traffic in the process.

As a case in point, the John Lewis shop in Oxford Street recently used AR to create a virtual showroom for their customers. Using computer-generated models, people could see how products from John Lewis’ catalogue look in the real in-store environment. It helped customers to visualize their purchases, and allowed the store to display its whole catalogue in a space-efficient way. This can be particularly useful for a new business owner renting a shop, where space is at a minimum or stock is too large to keep in store, such as in a shopping centre.


Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is the next step up from augmented reality and is predicted to be the next big thing for physical retail space. Unlike augmented reality, VR is completely immersive; customers wear headsets which simulate a 3D, fully computer-generated environment.

North Face offer a great example of an effective use of VR in a shop environment, providing customers with a participatory and meaningful retail experience. They used 360-degree 3D cameras and 3D sound equipment to transport visitors to the Yosemite National Park, enhancing both their customer’s retail experience and their brand storytelling.

Contextual Retailing

Contextual retailing shopping environments represent an evolution in the rigid format of traditional retail stores. A variety of new technologies will enrich the customer’s experience of the physical store by taking their data (on an opt-in basis) to create an individualised shopping experience. It’s rather like a personal shopper.

Tim Vallance, Lead Director, UK Retail and Leisure, JLL, said: “As the cost of occupying physical space in premium locations places more pressure on margins, retailers have to explore new technologies to optimise the use of space, including virtual technology which will enable shoppers to sample goods that don’t necessarily need to be stored on site.”

Using information from browser history, mobile purchases and apps, data-driven product suggestions can recommend specific products and services, transforming shopping into a one-on-one experience.

In the future, we expect to see physical retail spaces incorporate even more elements of the virtual world into their design, providing customers with an immersive and hyperconnected shopping experience.