Retail, an ever-evolving industry, is once again in flux.
With the advent of VR and AR technology, Retailers are again asking themselves how to best capture the eyes and wallets of targeted consumers. Consumers are no longer shopping simply for ease of convenience, often driving them online, but many are looking for an experience, even better an interactive experience, while they shop. Research from Sonar, J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary research unit, shows that consumers, especially those age 13-17 of Generation Z, are “expectant of the experiential nature of stores… 79% are more likely to visit stores that offer interactive experiences that help customize products.”[i] Additionally, 72% of U.S. millennial consumers surveyed by Sonar “believe that as [AI] technology develops, brands using AI will be able to accurately predict what they want,”[ii] which consumers see as beneficial.
Lowe’s, similar to other big-name retailers such as Macy’s and Kohl’s, has been hurt financially as consumers continue to shop more and more online.[iii] To combat actions such as showrooming, the act of checking out items in a physical store before buying them online[iv], brick and mortar retailers have taken great strides towards creating an omnichannel experience to engage consumers both in stores and in their own online platforms.
In 2014, the Lowe’s Innovation Labs launched the Holoroom, “a virtual reality home improvement design and visualization tool that empowers homeowners with an immersive, intuitive experience in the room of their dreams.”[v]
As Lowe’s proudly states on their website. “Visualizing a home improvement project is hard – the Holoroom is here to help.”[vii]
The Holoroom enables consumers to take an idea for a DIY project and turn it into a reality. Wearing Oculus HMD goggles, a consumer is able to design a room while the Lowe’s team member adjusts paint colors, counter top and cabinet finishes, appliances and fixtures etc. into the perfect room. Given the stress many consumers face regarding a DIY project, the Holoroom helps reduce the concern that design decisions will clash or rooms will not meet the consumer’s vision. Additionally, all the items utilized in the visualization are available for purchase in one easy and combined location through Lowe’s.
As Forbes shared in its article on AI and VR as the future of retail, “[VR enables you to] bring the catalogue and rooms to life. Putting people in the center of environments makes e-commerce more immersive, and will have a big impact on selling bigger items like furniture, as it will give them confidence to purchase.”[ix]
Though Lowe’s has not disclosed whether the introduction of Holoroom has driven increased sales to its brick and mortar stores, it has shared that “the technology has driven interest and traffic to its stores,”[x] an essential first step towards returning sales from online platforms.
Once the consumer has finished designing the perfect room, a Lowe’s customer service representative exports the project to YouTube 360 and provides the consumer with a Lowe’s branded Google Cardboard through which the project can be viewed at home.[xi] This ensures the consumer has the ability to replicate the DIY project at home and keeps the Lowe’s brand top of mind for any additions to the project or future DIY projects.
Recommendations for the Future:
Lowe’s has already recognized the significant amount of opportunity VR/AR can drive for the retail industry. The success of Holoroom has pushed Lowe’s Innovation Labs to invest additional R&D into VR projects resulting in the more recent launches of Holoroom How To, HoloLens, Lowe’s Vision, LoweBot, and more.[xiii] Each new technology further connects the consumer to the great resources, products, and services provided by Lowe’s. From educating on the how to of DIY projects with Holoroom How To, to helping consumers measure a room and design it with Lowe’s products from the comfort of their own home through Lowe’s vision, VR/AR technology is helping Lowe’s to further fulfill its slogan “Improving Home Improvement.”
Source Lowe’s Vision[xiv]
Source Holoroom How To[xv]
One of the risks I believe Lowe’s faces is ensuring the consumer does not become overwhelmed or discouraged by the plethora of technology available. Additionally, as VR becomes a reality in consumer’s homes, Lowe’s will need to ensure the software of Holoroom and Holoroom How To is easily accessible for all types of HMD from the comfort of the consumer’s home. Though such shifts will again drive traffic away from brick and mortar stores, Lowe’s Innovation Labs technology will ensure Lowe’s stays top of mind for the consumer when it comes to their next DIY project.
[i] Arthur, Rachel. “Future of Retail: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Have Big Roles To Play.” Forbes. June 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelarthur/2016/06/15/future-of-retail-artificial-intelligence-and-virtual-reality-have-big-roles-to-play/#72302c507f9d
[ii] Arthur, Rachel. “Future of Retail: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Have Big Roles To Play.” Forbes. June 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelarthur/2016/06/15/future-of-retail-artificial-intelligence-and-virtual-reality-have-big-roles-to-play/#72302c507f9d
[iii] Vanian, Jonathan. “Lowe’s Wants People to Fix Their Bathrooms in Virtual Reality.” Fortune. March 2017. http://fortune.com/2017/03/07/lowes-virtual-reality-home/
[iv] Craig, Emory. “Using AR in Retail – Amazon Explores Augmented Reality.” Digital Bodies. March 2017. https://www.digitalbodies.net/augmented-reality/using-ar-in-retail-amazon-explores-augmented-reality/
[ix] Arthur, Rachel. “Future of Retail: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Have Big Roles To Play.” Forbes. June 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelarthur/2016/06/15/future-of-retail-artificial-intelligence-and-virtual-reality-have-big-roles-to-play/#72302c507f9d
[x] Vanian, Jonathan. “Lowe’s Wants People to Fix Their Bathrooms in Virtual Reality.” Fortune. March 2017. http://fortune.com/2017/03/07/lowes-virtual-reality-home/
[xi] Ion, Florence. “Lowe’s Holoroom lets you preview a home remodel in virtual reality.” TechHive. January 2016. http://www.techhive.com/article/3020154/ces/lowes-holoroom-lets-you-preview-a-home-remodel-in-virtual-reality.html