Customer standards for digital commerce experiences keep increasing, with 88% saying they expect companies to “accelerate digital initiatives” because of the pandemic. Companies that want to win and keep customers’ business now must find ways to deliver experiences that meet those expectations — and then continue to improve on those experiences. The most effective way to deliver on those expectations is by providing immersive experiences.
Discussions about immersive experiences often focus on the data and technology they require to build, and those elements are critical. However, it’s also important to understand the core CX goal for immersive experiences and the different forms these experiences can take.
An immersive experience creates a compelling, uninterrupted journey for the customer — one in which the customer has everything they need to reach their goals in the way that works best for them in that moment, with no distractions or interruptions along the way. Building these experiences requires unified customer, inventory and fulfillment data used with a flat user interface (UI); natural interfaces like haptic, gesture, speech and sound interactions; and extended reality (ER) like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
The interfaces and technologies required vary from experience to experience, depending on what serves the customer best. Many of the innovations we’ve seen retailers adopt since the beginning of the pandemic are immersive experiences, and while they may have started as ways to make up for the lack of in-store traffic and sales, they’re now setting the standard for CX in ways that drive differentiation, conversions, sales and loyalty but also decrease returns. Here are a few use cases that illustrate the way brands are using and evolving immersive experiences now.
Customer-Configured Previews and Products
One major furniture retailer confronted the challenge of closed showrooms and the challenge of photographing hundreds of thousands of bed frames, upholstery and accessory options for display online by turning to augmented reality technology. Using AR, the site generates realistic previews of, for example, a sofa that the customer has configured with their preferences for fabric, feet and other details. The customer can see in real time what their choices will look like. They can also upload photos of the room where they’d like to put the sofa and the site will show them how it will look in that room.
This immersive experience lets customers see exactly what they’ll get without having to drive to a showroom or wait for upholstery swatches to be delivered. By using the customer’s own interior photos, the site also turns the act of browsing furniture into the experience of making a home. With more confidence in how the furniture will look and fit in their space — and perhaps more eager to make that vision a reality — Apple found that shoppers are 11 times more likely to buy when they can use this kind of AR-driven in-home preview.
Like the furniture retailer, a sports equipment brand also added product customization options to its website, so athletes can customize baseball and softball gloves based on the position they play, hand size, throwing arm and other preferences. As the customer moves through the options (and there are more than 300, organized into an easy-to-navigate menu that surfaces the relevant options at each step), they can instantly see their choices reflected in the product photo. This type of immersive experience allows the customer to create exactly what they want in real time, which increases engagement and can enhance brand loyalty. It also allows the retailer to earn more revenue, because up to 40% of consumers say they would pay more for a product that they could customize in AR.
Content-Driven Immersive Experiences
Not every immersive experience requires the technology for customization and virtual previews. One athleisure brand courts its customer base of luxury sneaker fans with a launch calendar on its homepage. Shoppers who eagerly await the next limited edition can request texts about upcoming product drops, or save the dates so they can be ready to snap up the shoes they want before they’re gone. When the retailer becomes a resource in this way and creates an ongoing conversation with the customer about what matters to them, it’s an immersive experience.
Brands can also leverage user-generated content to create an immersive community experience. A major beauty retailer, for example, has its own social community on its website where customers can share makeovers, product recommendations and styling techniques. Customers can add the products in each post directly to their cart without having to search for them on the site.
Immersive content can also center around a cause that customers and the company support. For instance, an outdoor clothing brand welcomes visitors to its homepage with an invitation to match their volunteer skills with an environmental group. The site also gives shoppers a marketplace where they can sell or trade their old outdoor gear and buy used, in addition to buying new products on the main site.
More Immersive Experience Opportunities
Some customer experiences are so common now that they don’t seem remarkable, like the proliferation of omnichannel shopping, delivery and return options that let customers order online for curbside pickup and return online purchases in stores. As more brands find more ways to use data and the right combinations of technology to meet customers’ needs, immersive experiences will not only set the standard for what customers expect from the companies they shop with and continue to support; they will also be a key differentiator.
Aaron Eversoll is a Market Development Vice President within the Consumer Products, Retail and Distribution (CPRD) practice at Capgemini Americas. He is responsible for driving Capgemini’s Digital Customer Experience initiatives within CPRD, focusing on helping clients solve their digital and commerce challenges and enabling clients to deliver an overall enhanced experience to their customers. Eversoll is a proud alum of Truman State University.