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TechBytes: Two Reasons Why Microsoft HoloLens May Disrupt Retail (and One Why It Might Not)


In another sign technology advancements are turning everyday life into the stuff of science fiction, Microsoft recently unveiled a new holographic computer system called HoloLens. Slated for official release this fall, HoloLens layers interactive 3-D holograms on top of the user’s physical surroundings, providing an “augmented reality” experience.

Users will be able to share holograms and see things from another user’s viewpoint, and even print them from a 3-D printer. Clearly, the retailer-consumer paradigm could be drastically altered once HoloLens is in wide release.

Then again, HoloLens may be less disruptive then some observers are predicting. Let’s look at reasons HoloLens may and may not prove to be the next great disruptive retail technology.

HoloLens Could Disrupt the In-Store Customer Experience

HoloLens holds the potential to let retailers deliver in-store shoppers a truly personalized and contextualized experience. HoloLens apps, which Microsoft promises can be developed on the standard Windows 10 platform, could allow retailers to provide on-demand extra product information (holograms can include videos).

It is also easy to envision the value that a holographic virtual dressing room app, or mirrors that let customers superimpose virtual clothing holograms on their actual reflections, could provide. Social shopping would also take on a whole new dimension with a customer sharing their view of the store and its products with their friends.

Essentially, customers could layer their own tailored, lifelike shopping environment on top of the actual store environment, letting retailers bridge the physical and virtual channels as never before.

HoloLens Could Disrupt the At-Home Customer Experience

HoloLens could disrupt the at-home customer experience just as much, or possibly more, than it could disrupt the in-store customer experience. Imagine a customer donning their HoloLens glasses and experiencing a lifelike, 3-D reproduction of their local store (or any store) right in their living room.

Complaints about not being able to adequately handle and inspect items for purchase online would disappear. In addition, all the enhanced virtual dressing room and social shopping functionality available in-store would also be available for at-home shoppers in a holographic store. This more “physical” online shopping experience would likely improve conversion and upsell rates.

What If They Gave a Hologram and Nobody Watched?

HoloLens differs from wearable virtual reality systems like the Samsung Gear VR headset or Google Glass connected eyewear in that it adds to the existing physical environment, rather than replace it with a virtual world. However, the fact remains that Oculus Rift has struggled to find an audience beyond video gamers and Google has quietly discontinued support for Google Glass due to lack of interest.

In addition, even the Amazon Fire smartphone, which includes augmented reality-type features such as 3-D imagery and access to Wikipedia entries on real-life objects, failed to score with consumers. Despite their seamless and “always connected” lifestyles, so far consumers have shown little interest in merging the virtual and physical worlds to the degree offered by HoloLens.

However, it is still very early in the virtual/augmented game. By 2016, consumers may well be ready to engage in immersive omnichannel environments. After all, the home computer was declared dead in the mid-1980s, and video games have gone through several boom-bust popularity cycles with consumers. One thing it’s safe to say is that if HoloLens does disrupt retail, it will be in very large, industry-shaking way.

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