Accenture Business Futures - Main 1

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Virtual and augmented reality will turbo-charge a brand’s competitive advantage

Quick read

➨ Nine in 10 C-suite executives of retail and consumer goods companies are investing in technologies to create virtual environments and plan to invest further
➨ Accenture estimates that 1% of retailers use augmented and virtual reality technologies to improve the consumer experience
➨ Among published patents, the share mentioning augmented or virtual reality has grown by 277% over the past five years

The story

A new report from Accenture suggests that retailers and brands are doubling down on immersive technologies to create ‘real virtualities’, defined as digital environments that are increasingly realistic, engage all senses, and create a greater connection to the physical world.

The Business Futures report identified ‘real virtualities’ as one signal of business change that are most critical for organisations to understand going into the future, with nine in 10 C-suite executives of retail and consumer goods companies telling Accenture that they are investing in technologies to create virtual environments and plan to invest further.

A separate finding revealed that 73% of respondents believe virtual environments will primarily enhance interactions and experiences in physical environments.

Despite this strong leaning toward ‘real virtualities’ becoming the norm, particularly in retail environments, Accenture estimates that 1% of retailers use augmented and virtual reality technologies to improve the consumer experience.

However, were this figure to increase to just 2%, it could translate into an estimated additional sales growth of $66 billion, according to Accenture.

Further research backing Accenture’s prediction about ‘real virtualities’ as one signal of business change is its patent analysis, which indicates that among those published, the share mentioning augmented or virtual reality has grown by 277% over the past five years.

Previous Accenture research has also found that one in five consumers moved online for virtual consultations, such as for hair and makeup, and almost half (46%) plan to continue to do so going forward. Consumers are three times more likely to purchase products such as makeup, fashion and food online now than they were before the pandemic.

Accenture Business Futures - Infographic
Accenture Business Futures infographic

‘Turbo-charging a brand’s competitive advantage’

Oliver Wright, global lead of Accenture’s consumer goods and services industry group, argues the pandemic “led to months of limited interaction, forcing a lot of consumer brands to respond with agility and creativity to blend physical and virtual worlds”.

Wright cites the example of the beauty industry, where brands recreated the high engagement usually seen in store by using augmented and virtual reality to enable consumers to ‘try’ different shades of makeup.

“Although current immersive technologies mostly engage our senses of vision and hearing,” Wright continues, “over time they will become increasingly realistic, engaging all senses and turbo-charging a brand’s competitive advantage in the process.”

“In the future manufacturers will not just be making products, they will also be creating new services and experiences and forming an even greater connection to the end consumer in the process.”

The shift to online retail as a result of the pandemic has had several negative consequences that immersive technology will help to alleviate, according to Jill Standish, global lead of Accenture’s retail industry group.

Standish says: “The growth in digital shopping driven by the pandemic has many advantages for consumers—from convenience, more expansive choice, price transparency and availability of products, to name a few. Unfortunately there are also negative consequences with the increase in shipping and returns both in terms of added cost to the retailer as well as the environmental impact to our planet.”

“Immersive technology and virtual try-before-you-buy AR experiences can be applied to a wide range of products and can help by giving customers a better idea of what they are buying thus cutting down on returns. In addition, customisation or personalisation can increase customer loyalty and emotional attachment to a brand.”

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Images: Accenture and Canva

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