In an industry where consumers are constantly on the look out for the next big thing, embracing innovation is the only way to stay ahead of the curve. The first thing that typically comes to mind when we hear the word innovation in the context of luxury is usually some beautifully avant-garde product, pushing the boundaries of creativity. However, having a great product is just one part of the battle won. The other encompasses being able to market your brand and products effectively, as well as providing quality service to entice potential customers and maintain that attraction for existing ones. It is in this area that XR has the potential to push the luxury industry into the future.
For the uninitiated, XR stands for Extended Reality and is an umbrella term used to refer to the more well-known forms of immersive technologies, namely, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), as well as any others that may emerge in future. The term “extended” reality is used as these technologies create an immersive experience which extends the reality we perceive. Before we go further, it would be prudent to explain how each differs from the other.
Virtual Reality (VR)
VR entails users being immersed in simulated environments courtesy of some sort of VR headset. This is probably the most well-known example of XR given the numerous gaming platforms like the PlayStation VR or Oculus Rift and the multiple VR games between them.
Augmented Reality (VR)
Where VR places users in a completely simulated environment, AR is the overlay of digital information and objects on the real world. AR technology requires a camera with which to capture visual information of the real world. While VR is arguably the most well-known of the immersive experiences, AR is the most used. The most commonly used example are the filters we love to use on our Instagram stories in order to alter our appearance.
Mixed Reality (MR)
MR is the latest addition to the world of immersive technologies and is sometimes known as hybrid reality. It involves the mix of the digital and real world but differs slightly from AR. MR also allows digital objects to be “placed” in our environment but has the added function of being able to interact and manipulate said objects. A good example what MR can bring to the table is Microsoft’s HoloLens, currently used in industries ranging from healthcare to retail.
As we said before, technology is advancing at an amazing rate. When AR was appeared on the scene it was a novel concept but somewhat glitchy and gimmicky in practice. Now however, brands and business worldwide are scrambling to integrate AR and the other immersive technologies which make up XR, in order to meet the demands of a younger, more tech-savvy consumer base.
With luxury brands, this ability is paramount to stay ahead of the curve and set the trends which others follow. Hence, capitalising on the latest innovations in XR technology goes hand in hand with the trend-setting nature of luxury brands. Furthermore, given how many physical retailers have been forced to shut down to curb the spread of COVID-19, XR is becoming an increasingly salient development as online shopping becomes the new normal. The problem with traditional online retailers is that we often aren’t 100% sure that the products shown in pictures will fit us the same way. AR provides buyers with a way to first “try on” products to ensure they fit their individual size and style. WatchBox, an online retailer of luxury watches was one of the first to introduce AR into its app which allowed users to see scaled images of the watches overlaid on their wrists. Porsche has an AR Visualiser App which allows customers to see what a car would look like in their driveway, as well as take a look at its various components.
Companies such as Buzz AR are also developing functional applications like the User Generated Content (UGC) Platform for businesses and ordinary users. As co-founder Bell Beh explained, “We allow everyone to scan, create and upload their 3D content, and share with others in real-time.”
“Besides users can check reviews (of businesses), leave comments, or even transact on this AR Billboard, within this web based AR interface,” Beh said of the potential business applications. “It boosts engagement rate, purchase intent and sales.”
Apart from offering an enhanced retail experience from the comfort of your home, luxury brands are leveraging on XR for marketing and advertisements as well. Dior famously made use of VR to create “Dior Eyes” which offers an immersive look at behind-the-scenes footage of the brand’s ready-to-wear fashion show.
A trend that AR technology seems to be following is a greater focus on gaming and entertainment, as exemplified by Pokémon GO crossing US$4 billion in revenue. Acknowledging how the world is becoming more gamified, Burberry collaborated with Snapchat to develop an in-store AR game, appealing to the younger generation’s fascination with online games. Their mobile game, “B Surf” even has AR face filters and characters as prizes.
As shopping nowadays takes place increasingly outside of physical retailers and boutiques, one thing we might miss out on when buying online is the personalised attention and customer service provided by staff. But, what if there was a way to bring that experience out of the retailer? Resonai launched Vera Concierge back in November last year, combining AR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create a virtual concierge that provides engaging brand experiences. While it is still something that requires the person to be in an actual store, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine this current technology being combined with more fully immersive VR technology, like what Marriott is using to give guests virtual tours of their hotels, to create a virtual retailer complete with an AI concierge that can be accessed without stepping out of your home.
This becomes even more intriguing when we factor in the advancements that are taking place in the world of holograms. For example, VNTANA, a Los Angeles-based start-up, partnered with Satisfi Labs to create the world’s first AI hologram concierge. Combining advanced holograms with future developments in XR and we could potentially be looking at virtual retailers managed by realistic looking AI concierges that would revolutionise shopping for the new tech-savvy generation.
In summary, the rising prevalence of XR is an innovation of the utmost importance for luxury brands to leverage on and stay ahead of the curve. While currently on the costlier side, Bell Beh of Buzz AR explained that “Luxury brands can think of adopting XR as a way to create new stream of income, rather than taking away their budget.” As the world and its newer generations get increasingly intimate with technology, XR’s continued developments presents a way to provide customers with greater service, and new ways to experience the brand’s products and legacy. Only by effectively embracing these advances will luxury brands be able to maintain their positions as trend-setters, and innovators, blazing the path for others to follow.