Where is the mall headed?

Mall owners are redeveloping and reimaging their properties to be relevant in today’s changing retail market.   Many properties are going through major redevelopments trying to create an experience, not just a place to shop.  Whether it’s offering more dining and entertainment options or having interactive features such as showcasing the latest augmented reality tech, the malls are keen to create opportunities for the consumers to engage more actively with physical retail.

The jury’s still out on the actual death of the mall. There is talk revolving around whether the “death of stores” and the general lean towards online life – and with that, online shopping – is something that will continue to transform the retail industry entirely and indefinitely.

Changing Retail Landscape   

There is something to be said about the convenience that point-and-click shopping brings to a consumer. Couple that with an augmented or virtual reality infused experience that not only enables you to shop from anywhere, but puts you in the place you wish to be, pick the product you need and have it reach you, all via a series of clicks, and the virtual experience really gives an actual physical trip to a mall a run for its money.

Millennials, the ever-hungry, ever-spending cohort that is always on the lookout for the next purchase that will wow their followers, are mobile-focused high spenders set to make up 2.6 billion of the global population by 2020, with access to $44 billion in buying power. And millennials are not shying away from spending this money, according to research – in fact, they spend more than half of what’s available to them each month.

Millennials are dictating a new path forward for the retail industry and if key players refuse to adapt, they may find themselves in some seriously hot water. To stay relevant and give this expanding audience an unique opportunity to spend their disposable income, retailers need to heighten their game by providing customers with relevant technology which is intuitive, engaging and exciting.

“This presents a significant challenge for retailers and brands to create a personalized, interactive experience with the latest digital advances or risk falling behind. This kind of innovation is not linear or a one-time project — it is a new way of thinking, operating and behaving,” said IBM General Manager of Global Consumer Industries Steve Laughlin.

Enter Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality has found a way to engage the customer both from the comfort of their own home and by providing them with a unique shopping experience in a physical mall.  Users can enter a virtual store, Ralph Lauren for example, and walk through the store, try on virtual clothes, interact with staff or even invite friends to shop with them in the virtual reality world.  On the other hand, mall owners can heighten the appeal of their space by creating tech demos and virtual reality simulations.  Especially while VR and AR headsets are still more of a novelty, physical stores can attract attention and increase visitations through the promotion of new experiences.

With its undeniable appeal and the promise of attracting millennials, retailers are buying into the idea of using virtual and augmented reality technology to improve their business operations in various ways. It’s not just a sales tool, but also an effective research tool which helps physical stores with merchandising, product placement and developing planograms.  The use of planograms in the retail stores helps create a better store layout and product positioning.

A brand that is courageously spearheading this trend of using virtual reality technology in the retail environment is Rebecca Minkoff. The designer partnered with Ripple in late 2016 to virtually live-stream a fashion show of her latest collection. The 360 VR experience allowed users to manipulate imagery at their whim and wander anywhere along the street where the fashion show was held. This fully immersive experience was only a toe dip for the company’s intentions to integrate VR into the way they reach customers.

Walmart launched several augmented reality apps, in the United States and Canada, coupling the technology tools with in-store marketing activities for blockbuster features such as The Avengers, the Amazing Spiderman and, most recently, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series. Using a free app, available for Android, iPhone and iPad, shoppers were given an opportunity to interact with signage placed throughout the store and embark on a virtual adventure during which they could obtain series-related merchandise.

Along with Walmart, companies such as Wayfair, Amazon, Overstock, Ikea and Sotheby’s have all dabbled in creating augmented reality apps to improve the experience of their customers.  At Radical Galaxy, we have been involved in the creation of virtual and augmented reality apps that are pushing the boundaries of what can be done within the space.  Our current R&D projects are being designed to make the shopping experience more modernized, intuitive and profitable for both malls and retailers.