VR and AR can offer new ways of customer engagement

Kelly Goetsch, chief product officer of commercetools, outlines how AR and VR can offer entirely V new possibilities for brands and retailers to engage with their customers.

Virtual reality and augmented reality have suffered from a bad dose of over-hype in recent years.

The market for VR headsets has been slower to take off as expected, despite heavy investment from technology giants like Facebook and Samsung. AR seemed to have a stronger mainstream launch pad when Pokemon Go burst onto the scene in 2016. A number of AR applications, like apps that overlay furniture images onto views of a customer’s room, have appeared. And yet, AR still hasn’t proliferated.

Notwithstanding how some of the allure has been lost, retail investment in AR and VR is going to pick up because the cost of its hardware is coming down. The sponsors of these technologies also remain committed to investing in more content, better hardware and ecosystems of related software and services.

What’s even more exciting is how AR and VR offers entirely new possibilities for brands and retailers to engage with their customers.


Unless brands and retailers are competing purely on price or convenience, their customers are buying an experience just as much as they’re buying physical products. Elements of an experience include a physically beautiful shopping space (physical or digital), an appeal to customer values, entertainment, and so on.

All of those elements of an experience can be replicated or even enhanced in a VR experience. Imagine having an artist design a virtual store and having millions of customers spend time in there because it’s so beautiful. Imagine going on a virtual test drive of a Tesla with a virtual avatar of Elon Musk as part of the sales journey. Imagine learning about environmental activism virtually sitting next to the founder and CEO of Patagonia.


Many times, customers have a shopping need like buying a present for a friend, but don’t know what they want. Being able to go into a virtual store and have a chat with a virtual associate (either backed by human or artificial intelligence), could solve this particular dilemma. Or, if you are a shopper looking for a new light fixture, a VR app could allow you to experience hundreds of options demonstrating how a fixture casts shade and light in different ways. These experiences are more VR-focused, though many of them could easily translate to AR.


AR’s most natural fit is for learning more about products in physical stores. Customers could pull out their smartphones or don a VR headset and look at a rack of shoes to see a ranking of how they would best fit their individual feet. A video could play next to a watch showing how it was made. Ratings and reviews of a TV could pop up in real-time. And for many customers, it’s not enough to see the packaging of a product. Instead, they want to go a few levels deeper. AR is the perfect way to do that.


Finally, support is a natural use case for both AR and VR. Immersive videos could demonstrate how to lay brick on a pathway or install a security camera. In the very distant future, a digital AR avatar could come into people’s homes to show them how to use a product or troubleshoot a problem.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook (Oculus), Amazon and the other  big consumer tech vendors will continue to make substantial investments in upcoming generation of AR and VR products. As a result, now is the time for brands and retailers to make similar  investments to have a first movers’ advantage when AR and VR become mainstream.

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