Retailers are turning to immersive technology to deliver future customer experiences

To help deliver stand out customer experiences, Digital Catapult and Redevco are staging an Innovation Day.

An appetite for experiences

Customers are now more than ever, demanding more from brands they shop for. Jo Pine, the author of the ‘Experience Economy’ explained that the reason for this is that as economies develop, price becomes less of a competitive differentiator. Shoppers now come to expect the best price at the click of a button as standard. Instead, what gives brands a competitive edge is providing customers with experiences alongside their shopping that entertain, educate, delight or provide an escape.

The example Pine observes is that customers highly prize the experience of having coffee in a coffee shop, even when drinking coffee at home is cheaper. And why? That’s because the overall experience provides delight and a platform to socialise. However, customer expectations constantly evolve to demand more: they desire unique, spontaneous and standalone experiences wherever they are.

To meet those expectations head on, retailers now, more than ever, need to differentiate themselves using unique shopper experiences. This is why brands are providing even deeper layers of experiences for their customers. For example, Nike  provides free training classes in store to their customers to cut through the clutter.

Valuable, but at a cost

Although these experiences are valuable (a survey done by Harvard Business Review found 86% of business leaders agreed that expanded customer experience is vital for success), not all retailers have the same budgets as big brands to be able to deliver these rich experiences.

Additionally, even for these big brands these experiences are hard to scale in a cost-efficient way.

Immersive technology as a channel for experiences

This presents a profound opportunity for immersive technology. Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality is a superb channel to deliver experiences. They offer unparalleled immersion and creative scope for customers to emotionally experience a brand, but in a more scalable and repeatable way. To deliver these experiences, Mercedes used a 360o VR test-drive that can be viewed using a google cardboard, costing only a few pounds.

As demonstrated above, this route allows smaller retailers to play in this space. Showing that a great immersive experience doesn’t necessarily mean that the not so big brands, who are sans multimillion pound budgets, need to resign themselves to having to throw in the towel. Thankfully it’s often the big idea, rather than the big budget that ends up opening the hearts, minds and wallets of shoppers.

Technologist Kevin Kelly noted that VR/AR/MR heralds a shift from information being the basic unit of consumer currency, to that of experiences. This represents a profound opportunity for companies developing immersive experiences to take advantage of this trend.

Major consumer brands including Nike, Adidas and Ralph Lauren are already creating out of this world immersive experiences retail experiences. They’ve had to. The high street has evolved to service shoppers’ appetites from the need to purely buy, to the need to enjoy.

Calling all innovative immersive digital companies

To help answer the call for standout retail experiences, Digital Catapult Centre Brighton and Redevco are looking for companies to become involved in Hanningtons Estate, a new retail destination that is currently being developed in the heart of ‘The Lanes’ in Brighton. It provides exciting new spaces for shops, restaurants and cafes and welcomes 8 million visitors annually.

Digital Catapult Centre Brighton and Redevco are looking for ideas, products and services that deliver inspiring shopping experiences to future visitors of the Hanningtons Estate, using virtual and augmented reality technology.

Applying companies should include start-ups, a consortium of technologist and creatives or established companies who are willing to explore how their existing immersive products and services, or new ideas could be applied to a retail setting. This will provide us with a sense of the value shoppers will gain from the experience.

We are particularly interested in ideas that provide shoppers with:

  • Fun and engaging ways to explore the Hanningtons Estate.
  • Never before seen experiences linked to brands or the wider shopping area.

Shortlisted companies will gain access to insight and feedback from retail experts, an innovation fund, and cutting edge immersive hardware to test their ideas. Plus, they will also stand the chance to have their idea showcased in a live retail environment in Brighton.

Learning how to push the retail envelope

As part of the retail innovation project, we’ll be holding a series of events kicking off on 23rd November that will include a Retail Innovation Day. We will also explore the current and future frontiers of immersive technology (virtual, augmented and mixed reality) and how they can be applied to retail.

In addition, on the day we will have presentations from experts on the retail landscape, how immersive technology is currently being leveraged to deliver commercial value, brand engagement and prized shopper experiences, as well as how to seize on future opportunities. Register to attend the Innovation day here.

Retail experts concur

An in-depth survey of nearly 14,000 consumers across six major European markets by Redevco indicates that the Internet is becoming a key driver of the intensifying “experience and convenience” market polarisation trend and creating a ‘retail state of mind’ that is increasingly impacting retailers and investors.

“Trends show shopper’s attitudes have moved from a need to purely buy, to a need to enjoy. They no longer have to deal with the pressure of having to complete a shopping list and not knowing where to find the products they need, as they have the possibility to do that online. Therefore, a shopping trip is a much more relaxed experience because they have more time available and want to be inspired and surprised” says Marrit Lanning, Head of Research & Strategy at Redevco.

Richard Scott Innovation Manager at the DCCB adds weight to the argument by saying, “Virtual and Augmented Reality presents an amazing opportunity to give shoppers experiences that they might never be able to enjoy anywhere else. Imagine if shoppers buying a new hiking rucksack also got to experience summiting Everest in virtual reality.”

These experiences have status and currency and are a way that physical retailers can add value and deepen their engagement with customers. The only limitations of what this could mean is our imaginations and this DCCB innovation call is really exciting as we are looking for both commercial and creative uses of the technology and content.

Seeing is believing

Cementing our ongoing commitment to explore how Immersive technology can be used to deliver inspirational retail experiences, we hosted our seventh VR Brighton Meetup on Thursday 2 November. On the night, world leading virtual and augmented reality companies Jaunt and Blippar demonstrated how they were leveraging cutting edge technology and content to engage shoppers and deliver commercial value to retailers and brands.

We also used the occasion to share both ours and Redevco’s thinking around how VR/AR is a perfect channel for delivering these experiences and how it provides a creative and empathetic way to exploit technology and address retailers’ business challenges in this space.

Apply now and help affect future customer experiences

If you are interested in shaping the future of customer experiences and want to be considered for the retail innovation project, please complete this short application form. Shortlisting of companies will occur before 31 December. Should you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with The Digital Catapult Centre Brighton at



Richard Scott


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