Accenture: Retailers investing in technologies to create ‘real virtualities’

Marianne Wilson
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Retailers are doubling down on their efforts to build online environments that are increasingly like the physical world.

As virtual environments come of age, retailers and consumer goods companies are investing in immersive technologies to build “real virtualities,” or digital environments that are increasingly realistic, engage all senses  and create a greater connection to the physical world, according to a report from Accenture.

Nine in 10 C-suite executives of retail and consumer goods companies said that they are investing in technologies to create virtual environments and plan to invest further, and 73% said that virtual environments will primarily enhance our interactions and experiences in physical environments. 

The pandemic led to months of limited interaction, forcing a lot of consumer brands to respond with agility and creativity to blend physical and virtual worlds,” said Oliver Wright, global lead of Accenture’s Consumer Goods & Services industry group.

For instance, he continued, in beauty —  an industry at the forefront of tech-led innovation —  some brands made the most of their “high engagement” nature by using augmented and virtual reality so that people could “try” different makeup shades, something they previously could only do in stores.

“Although current immersive technologies mostly engage our senses of vision and hearing, over time they will become increasingly realistic, engaging all senses and turbo-charging a brand’s competitive advantage in the process,” Wright said. “In the future manufacturers will not just be making products, they will also be creating new services and experiences and forming an even greater connection to the end consumer in the process.”

 Other findings of Accenture’s Business Futures report are below.

  • Currently it is estimated that 1% of retailers use augmented and virtual reality technologies to improve consumer experience, increasing this to 2%, could translate into an estimated additional sales growth of US$66 billion
  • Accenture’s patents analysis indicates that, among published patents, the share of those mentioning augmented or virtual reality has grown by 277% over the past five years.

Previous Accenture research found that one in five consumers moved online for virtual consultations (e.g. hair, makeup) and almost half (46%) plan to continue to do so going forward. Further, the research found that consumers are three times more likely to purchase products such as make-up, fashion and food online now compared to pre-pandemic.

“Immersive technology and virtual try-before-you-buy AR experiences can be applied to a wide range of products and can help by giving customers a better idea of what they are buying thus cutting down on returns. In addition, customization or personalization can increase customer loyalty and emotional attachment to a brand,” said Jill Standish, global head of Accenture’s retail industry group.

[Read More: Why the pandemic has created new urgency around digital engagement]