How “interactive realities” are enhancing the fashion shopping experience

The fashion industry is not exempt from the appeal of interactive realities, such as virtual and augmented reality, which promise to change the face of shopping.

“The digital revolution of the past few years has put the fashion industry through immense change,” said Jill Geoghegan in a Draper’s report on Future Trends and Innovation, June 2017.

It’s true, and because of this revolution the face of shopping is changing – and changing rapidly. It’s become abundantly clear that we’re now in the age of the ‘smart shopper’: one who embraces many channels and means (otherwise known as the “omnichannel“) offered by a retailer in order to achieve the best shopping experience possible.

Let’s take a look at how fashion brands are using interactive realities to change the way they interact with consumers, and the impact this is having on the industry.

The digital transformation of the traditional shopping experience

In the digital age, there is an enhanced need for brand-consumer interaction, and the way that fashion retailers are keeping up with their customers needs in this respect is so much more than simply adapting to the trend of e-commerce, and even m-commerce.

The traditional brick-and-mortar store is experiencing a complete digital transformation; walking along Regent Street, one of the most iconic shopping areas in London, it’s fascinating to see how both high street and designer brands are using these technological advancements in the physical retail space, and the speed at which it’s happening. Not to mention the creativity involved.

One of the most experimental and immersive channels of enhancing the customer’s shopping experience is quickly becoming the forerunner in stores: the Interactive Realities.

Interactive Realities is an unofficial umbrella term for the likes of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and 360º film, as a collective. VR is particularly prominent in the fashion retail space and is visibly evolving.

The Topshop VR experience

It all kicked off back in February 2014, or at least came to the public forefront, when Topshop installed a VR experience at their flagship store on Oxford Street during London Fashion Week. The experience offered a live stream of the brand’s catwalk show in the Tate Modern, whereby the user felt like they were situated right next to the models on the runway and celebrities watching in the audience.

Image source: Inition

At the time, Rachel Arthur of Fashion & Mash wrote, “The headsets for this coming weekend, as abstract as they might look and feel to wear, go back to what opening up show access is really about: making consumers feel involved.”

I believe this is the first notable example of the gap being bridged between the brand and the consumer – and it was a huge success.

Tommy Hilfiger and Dior VR fashion shows

The likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Dior steadily followed suit. In 2015, the American designer brand positioned Samsung GearVR headsets in select stores globally so that shoppers could experience being on the front row of a catwalk runway.

In a slightly alternative approach, the French luxury goods brand created it’s own VR headset named Dior Eyes offering users the opportunity to become immersed in life backstage at a fashion show.

Image source: LVMH

Fast forward to 2017 and we’re now seeing the theme of being present at a fashion show progress into something creatively more advanced and brand-specific.

Take Topshop’s VR water slide, for example, takes the user on a thrilling 360 ride around Oxford Street, to mark the start of summer.

The interactive experience has nothing to do with fashion directly but what it does is immediately tap into the brand’s consumer’s psyche about getting excited for the holiday season. It’s relatable, and fun, too.

Global Marketing Director Sheena Sauvaire is quoted as saying “As VR technology continues to advance our desire was to blend it with retail theatre to create an immersive and shareable experience for our consumers.”

Why are the Interactive Realities so popular with shoppers?

Prior to the heyday of online shopping, consumers were, generally speaking, very loyal to brands and stores. There was a dip in this loyalty when competition grew alongside the rise of e-commerce; for the first time, online consumers were able to quickly flick between stores to check pricing and availability, not to mention limited sales items, offering the feeling of freedom and experimentation.

The introduction of Interactive Realities in fashion retail is partly responsible for the return of that loyalty.

Awane Jones of the HuffPost, Canada, stated in May 2016; “Virtual reality indeed seems to be the perfect, refreshing way for brands to directly engage with consumers.”

Consumers want to feel immersed in a brand, to be told a story and to have meaningful experiences, which will ultimately lead to achieving the best shopping experience possible.

The 360 Consumer: How VR is Reshaping the Buying Experience, a survey by WorldPay which collated its results from 16,000 consumers, found that “48% of shoppers think that VR is the future of shopping” and a staggering 62% “think that AR and VR has the ability to change how we shop and that it’s way more fun than online shopping”.

These figures are interesting because they reveal the faith that consumers have in Interactive Realities in the fashion retail space, even in its early years.

In the ever-evolving digital world we live in, is it any surprise that VR and other Interactive Realities are becoming increasingly prominent in the fashion industry? The answer is a resounding no. Whether high street, mid-range or luxury, brands are investing in these innovative, fun and immersive experiences to build stronger consumer engagement, which in turn, drives consumer sales, brand awareness and loyalty.

The impact doesn’t stop there

It is undeniable that the growing collaboration between fashion and technology in this respect, is widening the window of possibilities for future collaborations.

Consumers will begin to view technology as an integral part of fashion and their shopping experience; personalization, for example, will help to form a deeper connection between the consumer and the brand leading to further trust and loyalty.

Whilst brands will face fewer limitations, less skepticism and even more engagement. What we’re seeing is the strengthening of another branch of the omnichannel, and it’s exciting for all involved.

It’s a win/win situation, and it’s only getting just getting properly started.

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