Rethinking retail using Microsoft HoloLens

Mixed reality adoption is surging, as retailers rethink all aspects of their operations. Microsoft’s Rody Senner says it can enable a better shopping experience while reducing operating costs

Rethinking retail using Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft

Spending on augmented reality solutions in the retail sector is expected to grow to over $8 billion by 2025, eclipsing the 2021 figure by more than 10 times, according to IDC’s Wordwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, April 2021 Forecast.

This rapid adoption comes as retailers recognise that these technologies provide opportunities to respond to market conditions that have left many of them badly bruised. The possibilities offered by mixed reality solutions from Microsoft are limited only by the retailer’s imagination, and already are being used for many applications, including layout optimisation, sales assistance and training.

“Layout optimisation can be extremely powerful for interior design,” says Rody Senner, North America mixed reality sales lead at Microsoft. “Companies are leveraging mixed reality to immerse their customers in a holographic visualisation to see the space before they spend any money. This can increase customer confidence, and the ticket price.”

German firm küchenquelle creates in-built kitchens for homeowners and businesses. It used a mixed reality platform created by technology firm Island Labs and based on Microsoft Azure and HoloLens 2 to help customers visualise their new kitchen before making the decision to spend.

“We wanted a cutting-edge tool that would make our design and sales processes more efficient and effective,” says Andreas Rode, CEO at küchenquelle. “We also wanted to make the process of planning and buying a new built-in kitchen a fun, even joyful, experience for our clients.”

The financial returns are real, too. Rode says küchenquelle’s tests indicate that it’s possible to increase the average sales price for its projects by up to 20 per cent with this solution, and conversion rates increase by 15 to 20 per cent, too.

Italian furniture company Natuzzi has also seen a huge rise in its sales closing rates, by using  HoloLens 2 to create an augmented reality solution that allows its customers to fall in love with what they are buying, before they buy it.

“We wanted to change the rules of the game for the interaction between the Natuzzi brand and the consumers walking into our stores,” says Pasquale Junior Natuzzi, the firm’s creative director.

“It helps them warm up the hearts of the customers,” he says. “So there is always this human touch behind everything.” 

The company has seen a 35 per cent increase in sales closing rates since introducing HoloLens 2 at their augmented stores. And floor space at those stores can be reduced by 50 per cent, meaning Natuzzi can cut back on overheads at the same time as increasing sales. 

Mixed reality can be extremely effective out of the showroom, too. “Rather than put users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them,” says Senner. She believes that these immersive experiences contribute to customer loyalty. “Mixed reality gives retailers the ability to allow their customers to interact with accurate 3D replication,” she says. “They can customise materials, colours, details and finishes within a highly immersive and personalised experience that strengthens the retailer’s brand and loyalty.” 

Not all mixed reality applications are customer facing. Firms in all industries are realising the benefits of mixed reality when it comes to training staff, both in terms of providing easy and lower-cost access to experts, however remote they are from the person being trained, but also delivering training in a highly personalised and visual way that can increase understanding and therefore the quality of instruction. 

To prepare employees to handle around 2,500 new food items at its revamped Kroger Express stores, Walgreens is piloting an immersive, mixed reality training programme using Microsoft HoloLens 2 and tablet devices. 

A three-dimensional model of the reconfigured stores and various scenarios help to teach employees how to restock products, determine if products are past their prime, help customers redeem grocery coupons and deal with unfamiliar customer service situations.

“We feel that this very immersive, interactive technology helps team members grasp new ways of learning beyond what I’ll call the paper exercise,” says Steven Lamontagne, vice president of physical design and formats for parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Lamontagne says HoloLens 2 training offers the benefit of familiarising employees with the new store layouts even before renovations are finished: “By using a 3D model for the store, a team member gets to see what the future is going to be like after their store’s remodelled, and they’re immediately within that new physical environment.” 

Partner perspectives

We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how they are building on the HoloLens platform to deliver innovation in retail. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 152 of the digital edition of the Summer 2021 issue of The Record.

Antonio Squeo, chief innovation officer at Hevolus, said: “Hevolus Innovation has developed Phygital Remote Selling to innovate retail through the power of intelligent technologies and Microsoft HoloLens 2.” 

Mark Knowles-Lee, CEO of Fracture Reality, said: “With JoinXR, our remote collaboration platform for HoloLens 2, we are delivering innovation across a broad spectrum of enterprise verticals.” 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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