Retail and virtual reality are a match made in heaven. With VR glasses, for example, consumers can really experience a product before they make a purchase. But virtual reality also helps retailers improve their physical stores, which is merely a selection of the many innovative VR applications for this particular industry.

As you already know, virtual reality tries to use technology to create a virtual world, with which interaction is often possible. That technology can be a special VR headset such as the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, but also a smartphone in combination with a gadget such as the Google Cardboard or even a special VR-equipped room.

Virtual reality is sometimes still confused with augmented reality. The two technologies certainly have common ground, but there is also an important difference. Augmented reality lays an additional layer over the physical world, while the real world is not visible when using virtual reality. Both are on the rise in retail.

More and more retailers are equipping their stores with VR or AR installations to enrich the customer experience. Or they develop applications that consumers can use at home. But companies also use VR technology for business purposes, for example to optimize the layout of their stores.

We’d like to present some interesting examples of VR applications in the retail sector:

  • Virtual Interior Design

    Virtual and augmented reality can make designing your home easier and more fun. With the IKEA Place app, you can virtually try out furniture from the IKEA catalog in your home – and purchase it directly from your sofa. And retail chain Lowe’s has created special holorooms in a number of branches where customers can put their dream room together. Customers can design their kitchen or bath and view it in VR using Oculus Rift in-stores, and take-home a free Google Cardboard viewer to enjoy their room design whenever and wherever they choose. A great way to lure people into the store.

  • The Car You’ve Always Wanted

    Car brand DS Automobiles presented a VR experience for visitors during the 87th edition of the Geneva Salon. PSA Group's luxury division wanted to develop a digital system of communication, distribution and sales. They selected the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform and its Virtual Garage to create its immersive experience DS Virtual Vision. Using the HTC Vive, potential clients could make a virtual trip to the Place de la Concorde and view a brand-new SUV there. For example, it was possible to sit in the virtual car and adjust the colors, decorations and equipment. Welcome to the car showroom of the future!

  • Choosing a New Outfit

    Clothing vendors are also embracing virtual and augmented reality. For example, so-called virtual fitting rooms and mirrors have existed for years. Online fashion platform MARK.MODA went a step further. A massive archive of ready-to-wear looks from brands, stylists, and users helps understand which looks should be complemented by certain accessories, or which additional items will harmonize a favored look. The virtual dressing room, which uses digitized avatars, tells which size is ideal for the customer and shows how a particular item fits their physique.

    The constructor presents all products from the catalog and a diverse archive of faces contains not only professional models, but also users who have created a digital avatar. Models are sorted by type and hair color. When saving a look, users can choose the pose and even the emotion of the model. MARK.MODA offers all customers a unique tool for selecting clothes according to individual parameters, making your online shopping experience go even more smoothly.

  • The Perfect Store

    A whole science is hidden behind the layout of a store. From promotional material, displays and packaging to signs that help the customer orientate: each and every detail counts. A solution like MARK.SPACE makes it possible to bring a store to perfection using realistic 3D objects and products that you can also view in VR. One of the main differences with other virtual stores is that MARK.SPACE uses real, digitized products (by making 3D copies in an actual photo studio), instead of simulations, made by 3D graphics like is the case with IKEA, for example. Manufacturers, businesses, vendors, and various communities can work more efficiently (together) with such a virtual test store or space. Check out this Balenciaga test store, or browse through the VR-compatible shopping mall by clicking on the building map button in the top left corner.

  • Shopping in VR

    Virtual stores are no longer futuristic fairytales. For example, Australian retailer Myer opened the first virtual department store in the world together with eBay last year, although, graphically, that was not a pleasant thing to see, but still. You have to start somewhere. Buy + from Alibaba is a more visually appealing example. This will, someday, let consumers with VR glasses walk through virtual replicas of stores such as Macy's and Costco, view items and pay for them immediately.

Virtual reality literally adds a new dimension to shopping, making it an out of this world experience. The VR and AR markets will continue to grow strongly in the coming years, but otherwise it is difficult to predict what the future will bring. Time will tell which applications will soon be the new standard in the retail sector, and which will only prove to be a gimmick.