Retailers and brands are doubling down on virtual technologies to create “real virtualities, Accenture reports

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As virtual environments come of age, a new report from Accenture, Business Futures, found that retailers and consumer goods companies are doubling down on immersive technologies, to build “real virtualities” — defined as digital environments that are increasingly realistic, engage all senses, and create a greater connection to the physical world. 

Key findings of the Business Futures report include:

  • Nine in 10 C-Suite executives of retail and consumer goods companies said that they are investing in technologies to create virtual environments and plan to invest further
  • 73% of respondents said that virtual environments will primarily enhance our interactions and experiences in physical environments
  • Currently it is estimated that 1% of retailers use augmented and virtual reality technologies to improve consumer experience, increasing this to 2%, could translate into an estimated additional sales growth of US$66 billion.
  • Accenture’s patents analysis indicates that among published patents the share of those mentioning augmented or virtual reality has grown by 277% over the past five years.
  • Previous Accenture research found that one in five consumers moved online for virtual consultations (e.g. Hair, makeup) and almost half (46%) plan to continue to do so going forward. Further, the research found that consumers are three times more likely to purchase products such as make-up, fashion and food online now compared to pre-pandemic

“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. For instance, in Beauty – an industry at the forefront of tech-led innovation – we saw brands make the most their “high engagement” nature by using augmented and virtual reality so that people could “try” different makeup shades, something they previously could only do in stores,” said Oliver Wright, global lead of Accenture’s Consumer Goods & Services industry group. “Although current immersive technologies mostly engage our senses of vision and hearing, 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 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,” said Jill Standish, global lead of Accenture’s Retail industry group. “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, customization or personalization can increase customer loyalty and emotional attachment to a brand.”