Can a combination of AI and VR save brick and mortar retailers?

Despite what some industry groups might say, it is clear that online shopping has severely impacted the revenues of traditional brick and mortar retail stores. Does that mean that retail is dead, or at least on its way out?


But, the retailers that survive the next decade will need to innovate and pivot their way to deliver enough value to bring customers in the door, and most importantly, convince those customers to spend their money on site, not online.

Tristan Greene, writing for TNW, shared the following about a startup that is aiming to improve the retail experience by implementing a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR):

Across the globe, in millions of storefronts, employees build displays and arrange products in a bid to get customers to buy things they hadn’t planned on. It’s called a store plan, and thanks to the marriage of AI data analysis and virtual reality the concept is much smarter than it’s ever been.

These plans are traditionally conceived in warehouses, giant physical spaces mocked up to resemble the interior of a store. This seems like a huge waste, now that technology is making it more feasible to create a virtual environment to tinker in.

InContext Solutions has a better idea: get rid of the building, recreate the storefront in VR, and put AI on the shelves to aid in the creation of smarter store layouts.

What’s the Point?

If you read between the lines here, what InContext Solutions has done is create a great design tool for the furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) component of a building. Managing FF&E is a critical aspect in a tenant improvement, new construction, or reno/re-positioning project. And it typically falls outside the purview of the design and construction team, as it is mostly handled by internal employees.

By empowering retail management with the ability to optimize and explore various FF&E options virtually, without the incredible time and cost associated with a real-world mockup, the focus goes directly to the end user experience.

The other factor worth considering is that in the retail world, performance is often measured in revenue generated per square foot of retail space. By eliminating the need for mockup warehouses, it reduces the amount of real estate in the portfolio that doesn’t produce revenue.

The real question however is, will retailers adopt such tools and make customer experience a priority, or will they continue to do things the way they’ve always done?


Image courtesy Wikimedia