Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For a long time, the retail industry has been changing to digital platforms. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift at an impossible pace. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores faced many difficulties, forcing the sector to create new ideas or risk becoming obsolete.

What emerged from this crisis came the recognition that retail, in the way we used to do it, was going through a significant transformation. The virtual shopping experience, enhanced with technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), became the center of attention.

1. The demise of in-person retail and the rise of virtual shopping

Before the outbreak, traditional retailers were grappling with a decline in foot traffic and the undisputed growth of online shopping. But, the health epidemic caused this slow decline to become a possible death knell for many.

Social distancing, lockdowns and a general skepticism of public spaces meant the retailers needed to change their strategies quickly and swiftly. The advent of virtual shopping is the perfect blend of convenience and creativity, providing a tactile shopping experience in the security and comfort of home.

2. AR try-ons

AR technology gives shoppers the chance to try on things in Virtual Reality. Users can now view what a particular item would look like on makeup and sunglasses to clothes and shoes without touching it. Brands like Sephora, Gucci and Nike have already incorporated AR try-ons into their stores, providing a personalized shopping experience for customers.

Related: AR/VR in the Post Covid Era: Trends That Will Change the Business Ecosystem

3. Virtual reality shopping

Imagine walking through the hallways of a designer boutique and the aisles at an electronic store while sitting on your couch. Virtual Reality is making this possible. With VR headsets, users can experience VR stores that are 360 degrees, browse through products, and chat with virtual sales associates.

4. AI-powered personal shoppers

AI is the unnoticed powerhouse that is transforming your shopping experience. Algorithms look at people’s shopping past, preferences and social media activities to determine what they’ll purchase next. AI-driven insights can help brands personalize their user experience, providing specific product recommendations for users, thus increasing the likelihood of purchasing.

Related: How to Build Brand Loyalty Through Augmented Reality

5. Virtual pop-ups and exclusive launches

In the retail world, exclusiveness is the most sought-after feature. Utilizing VR, companies have created virtual pop-up shops open for a brief period. Online events can generate excitement similar to their physical counterparts, drawing influential customers, loyal customers and new customers interested in the virtual experience.

6. Social shopping

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have grown from social networking sites to major retail outlets. Users can click on the products featured in stories or posts and then be taken to a shopping page, blurring the line between shopping and socializing.

7. Holistic experience using integrated platforms

Online shopping’s future isn’t only about the individual technology but their integration to create an effortless experience. The customer could utilize VR to go to the virtual shop, AR to try on an outfit, and AI can suggest accessories that match.

Related: What Is the Metaverse and Why Is It Important to Entrepreneurs?

8. The importance of data security in virtual shopping

With the increasing use of technology comes increased responsibility for data security. Retailers invest a lot in security, ensuring their customers’ financial and personal details are kept confidential. Blockchain technology is emerging to increase transparency and safety for transactions.

9. Environmental consciousness and virtual shopping

One of the unintended benefits of the move to online shopping has been the potential positive effect on the planet. With fewer physical stores and decreased footfall, there’s lower energy use. In addition, virtual try-ons may result in more precise purchases and reduce returns, as well as the associated logistics.

Related: How the Virtual World is Making Real World Sustainable

10. The continuing significance of physical retail

Although online shopping provides many advantages, the actual retail experience is a must for many. Companies are recognizing this and are embracing a hybrid approach. The physical stores are transformed into interactive spaces that allow customers to interact with their products and, if they wish, buy them on the Internet.

Personal insights

After a recent excursion in internet-based shopping, I remember the moment like an explosion. I was looking for the ideal pair of sunglasses for a planned trip. Instead of visiting a store and testing a variety of teams, I opted for an online platform with an AR trial feature. Using my smartphone camera, I could “wear” various sunglasses, noting how each pair fit my facial shape and features. I discovered my perfect sunglasses, consulted the reviews, and purchased them within a few minutes.

It wasn’t just the convenience of the process of shopping that made an impression. The realization was that the Internet could recreate and, in certain instances, improve the personal and tactile experience of shopping in the traditional way. I didn’t just purchase an item. I bonded with it, imagined it, and felt it all without touching it physically.

The experience made me think about the broader implications for consumers and businesses. The shift to online shopping isn’t just an answer to the pandemic but an opportunity to see a more personalized, integrated, and immersive future for retail.

The success of a retail model is dependent on a few factors:

  • Personalization tools and technologies should not be general: Like my shopping for sunglasses experience, I was impressed by the individual touch and the ability to look at the product independently, which made the difference. Businesses must ensure their online shopping experience is as customized and personal as possible.
  • Intuitive user experience: No matter how technologically advanced, shoppers can stay on if the user interface is user-friendly. The AR, VR, and AI tools must be integrated seamlessly with the shopping platform, ensuring that even those with no tech skills can use the experience.
  • Human Element: Although we live in a digital age, human touch remains indispensable. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to virtual assistants powered by AI or live-streamed chats with customers who feel acknowledged and understood, and being able to cater to your needs can enhance the shopping experience.

In analyzing these ideas, it is clear that retail’s future will defined by a mix of human touch and technology. The retail stores of the future will be those that successfully combine the efficiency and creativity of the digital age with the warmth, individualization, and tangible nature of the physical world. We are nearing the end of a new era in retail, and every purchase can be a technologically driven experience and an intimate trip.

This article is from Entrepreneur.com

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