From QR to XR: The tech keeping retail on its toes

Marie Boran's avatar
Marie Boran

AI, extended reality (XR) and even QR codes are bringing new innovations to retail by blending the digital and physical shopping experience.

Is the future of retail online-only? Or will brick-and-mortar stores maintain relevance? Some tech optimists think retail will exist mainly in the ‘realverse’, or what is increasingly being called XR (extended reality) – a mix of real, digital and virtual.

How is XR different from AR? Rather than simply layering interfaces over the physical world (either through a smartphone app or AR glasses), XR is a bridging technology that aims to support seamless transitions between this and immersive virtual experiences.

In theory, you could put on a single wearable device
and head into town to visit a store. Inside, you could
browse for a new jacket and, through the wearable,
see an info overlay of what you’re looking at. This
could show you what the jacket looks like on an avatar,
alongside other in-store options.

Then, having decided on the way home to buy the
jacket, you can switch to the store’s website to add it
to your shopping cart for home delivery.

“AI … unlocks the ability to deliver on failed promises of the past.”

– Jordan Fisher, Standard AI

“The power of AI and computer vision is about
unlocking the physical world [and] elevating the thing
that’s already amazing, which is the world that we live
in today,” explained Jordan Fisher, co-founder and
CEO of computer vision startup Standard AI.

Right now, the only limitation is the hardware we use,
said commercetools CMO Jen Jones.

“What kind of data would you like to have accessible
without having to look away and search in your
phone?” asked Jen. Furthermore, how can it be
automated and integrated into the world around you?

Old tech works too

Retail innovation can also involve incorporating
tech that has been around for quite a while. The QR
code, for example, dates back to 1994, but is only
now making inroads. Jen gives the example of home
furnishings store Restoration Hardware, which has
moved away from a traditional store experience.

“They have physical showrooms paired with their
online shopping experience and their catalogues.
When you go to one of their showrooms, everything
has a QR code on it,” explained Jen. “There’s no
checkout. You build your cart online on your phone,
then you checkout and have things delivered.”

Another example is upscale men’s clothing store
Harry Rosen. They’re leaning into personalisation to
replicate a “high-touch, in-store stylist experience”.

Using information including desired size and fit, Harry
Rosen stylists assemble bespoke looks for clients to
peruse from home. The result? A return rate three times
lower than when shoppers pick out their own clothes.
Generative AI, unsurprisingly, fits into all this.

Jordan sees it as a bridge to “high-touch” consumer
experiences where it could, at scale and in a
cost-effective way, give everyone their own
personal stylist.

Jordan added: “I think of AI not as the flying cars
that were promised; but what it does, I think, is that
it unlocks the ability to deliver on failed promises of
the past.”

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Main image of Jordan Fisher, co-founder & CEO, Standard AI, onstage at Collision 2023: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)


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