VR: Getting People to Take Safety Training Seriously, Retail Merchandising, and More

Virtual reality is making inroads in the retail industry, at the same time as more and more companies are realizing the powerful potential of VR for training. Here are some of the most recent use cases of VR in enterprise, all of which, when it comes down to it, are customer-facing applications of the technology. The following is evidence of digital disruption ramping up beyond work instructions and collaborative design, to directly impact the products and services that consumers experience everyday:


ADT

In a recent mailer campaign to convey the importance of professional alarm monitoring services, ADT sent out Google Cardboard-like VR headsets that put recipients into a simulated life-threatening situation. Noting a lack of awareness among homeowners around what actually happens during a fire, ADT worked with Harte Hanks to create a VR experience accessible on YouTube that would drive home the potential side effects of carbon monoxide, the physical obstacles that can prevent you from escaping, and other elements of a house fire.

Placing a phone in the viewer sent by ADT, you find yourself in a bedroom filled with smoke. You’re immersed in a mother’s fear and disorientation as she’s awoken by a call from ADT and goes to find her daughter, who refuses to leave without her dog. When the two go downstairs, you see an inferno coming from the kitchen, and then the house loses power. The experience is raw and definitely more powerful than a pamphlet, but at the end of the day it is a marketing campaign to not only change the batteries in your smoke detector every year but also buy ADT’s services. 


Walmart

The retailer is expanding its use of VR beyond employee training to the customer experience, making novel use of its 4,000+ physical stores. Walmart subsidiary Spatial& and DreamWorks created a VR experience based on the new “How to Train Your Dragon” movie that is now touring 40 Walmart store parking lots via 50-foot tractor trailers. In this way, Walmart is able to play host to exclusive VR experiences (featuring VR-powered chairs) and give the masses access to VR overnight—a technology that’s still too expensive for most and that Spatial& views as the future of retail marketing.

By working VR into stores, Walmart and other retailers can cut back on large displays and market products in interactive ways. For instance, shoppers might use a VR headset to put a tent together to test out camping gear or try stowing a stroller in an overhead airplane bin before buying. This is essentially “try before you buy” but inside the store itself. VR can even bring products to life, for example by enabling shoppers to virtually visit the vineyard that produces Walmart wine.


Royal Mail

Mailman vs. dog: It’s a classic TV trope that Royal Mail says prevents postal workers from taking anti-dog attack training seriously. In addition to the cartoon vision of the dog chasing the mailman, the group environment in which this training is traditionally held hurts its effectiveness, as trainees don’t want to be seen taking it seriously. Over the years, Royal Mail has tried videos, brochures, slogans and posters to reduce the number of dog attacks on its employees; now it’s turning to VR.

With around 150,000 postal workers delivering to some 30 million addresses, Royal Mail sees around 2,275 dog attacks per year. Injured employees are unable to finish their routes, which severely impacts customer experience. Looking for a way to isolate the training and eliminate the “banter culture” around dog attacks, Royal Mail began using VR: Now, trainees use smartphones inserted into headsets to experience potential dog attack scenarios, select different actions and receive feedback on their choices. The result: Many units haven’t reported a single dog attack since adopting the VR training system in November 2018. The training was also inexpensive for Royal Mail to pilot nationally.


Kellogg

Accenture Extended Reality, Qualcomm and Kellogg recently teamed up to pilot an eye-tracking VR headset for retail merchandising. The idea is to enable companies to do market research faster, cheaper and on a larger scale. Accenture developed the solution based on a Qualcomm VR reference design headset powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, using eye-tracking tech from Tobii, eye-tracking data analytics from Cognitive3D, and mixed reality software from InContext Solutions. By tracking where a user looks while moving through a full-scale virtual store, walking down virtual aisles, picking up products and placing items into his cart, retailers can determine the best way to stock shelves.

Brands spend a lot of time, money and effort figuring out optimal product placement but are usually limited in the data they’re able to collect (online surveys and in-home user tests can only go so far). Eye-tracking in VR provides richer and more accurate behavioral data than traditional testing. You can observe what users are looking at, for how long, in a realistic shopping scenario; and expand testing to more geographically dispersed participants (mobile VR). In fact, the VR eye-tracking solution has led to insights that directly contradicted some of Kellogg’s prior assumptions, resulting in an 18% increase in the brand’s sales during testing.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.

Let Your Customers and Workers Choose the Right XR Use Case for You

Here’s a common misconception: The more robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) advance, the more expendable human beings become in the workplace.

Although Forrester Research predicts automation will displace 24.7 million jobs by 2027, it’s irrational to fear that robots will ultimately replace all human workers. For as robotics and AI improve, so do technologies for empowering human workers. I’m talking about wearable technologies like augmented and virtual reality headsets as well as wearable robotics (exoskeletons) that enable humans to work longer, quickly train for new jobs, and perform in sync with automation. You could even argue that as automation progresses, human workers will become more indispensable to enterprises—while robots may assume the dangerous and repetitive aspects of work, unmanned technology won’t be able to address every productivity issue or match distinctly human capabilities like human dexterity and imagination.

When it comes to embracing disruptive technology, successful organizations take a “user is king” approach, finding out pain points in the business directly from the source, i.e. workers or customers who are expected to use or benefit from the technology. Whether it’s getting a group together for a brainstorming session, including members of the workforce in the proof of concept stage, or simply encouraging a company culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas with leadership; there is no one better than the user herself to determine where and how to digitally transform.


“Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will.” – SAS CEO Jim Goodnight


Two companies have gone beyond merely asking for user input: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines established a physical hub to foster workers’ original ideas for using emerging technologies; while Lowe’s went directly to the customer, applying “young” immersive tech to age-old home improvement shopping challenges. Essentially, KLM and Lowe’s are letting their employees and customers come up with the use cases in which they’re investing.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

In 2016 at its Amsterdam Airport Schiphol East base, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines opened its Digital Studio, a creative space where workers from all areas of the airline’s business are encouraged to come and innovate. Here, employees can put forward ideas on how to use digital technologies like AR and blockchain in their work, and see their ideas fast-tracked into development and then, hopefully, into practice.

The Digital Studio, which currently has room for 200 workers, is based upon Dave West’s Scrum Studio concept of an environment where high-performing teams, physically separated from the main business, can fast-track projects. It’s very hard to change large legacy companies like KLM from within: The larger the organization, the higher the chances of disruptive technologies ending up in pilot purgatory and innovation suffocating in red tape between divisions and levels of management.

Though most of the current projects at KLM’s Digital Studio are still in the experimental stage, a handful have turned into practice. The studio has embraced KLM employees of all different backgrounds and roles, who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to take their transformative ideas further. Take Chris Koomen, who was stationed in KLM’s engineering and maintenance division: Chris had an idea for using VR, so he joined the Digital Studio and has been a part of integrating VR for training aircraft crew. Another idea pitched by a KLM mechanic involves using AR in aircraft and engine maintenance.

Every four weeks, the Digital Studio hosts a demo of what it’s working on to interested observers. The lesson here is don’t hide emerging tech in a lab unless you’re going to let the user in. Show employees what’s out there, give them resources, and let those who perform the job every day tell you how to transform the business.


“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” – Jerry Gregoire, former VP & CIO of Dell


Lowe’s

Despite the impression one might get from HGTV, building things is not easy for the non-professional. Planning a home improvement project, shopping for building materials, executing the project…what’s most difficult for the average consumer, even a hardcore DIY-er, is visualizing the final product. But it seems a solution has finally appeared in the form of XR (AR, VR, MR), and all the major home improvement brands recognize the potential. There are now apps for virtually measuring your surroundings and picturing all kinds of design options and home products in your real space. And it’s not just the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world—architects and engineers have seized upon VR to help clients visualize new structures, real estate agents are giving virtual home tours, and even Gulfstream Aerospace employs XR so its clients know exactly what their custom jets will look like when delivered.

Lowe’s has been conspicuously innovative in making the benefits of XR available to its customers. For the last four years, powerful new immersive technology design and shopping tools have been brewing in Lowe’s Innovation Labs. Josh Shabtai, Director of the Labs Productions and Operations, says he looks at those problems that keep resurfacing. Since the introduction of Holoroom How-To in 2014, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has rolled out an impressive suite of mobile apps / pilot projects to gauge customers’ comfort level with XR, including Lowe’s Vision, In-Store Navigation, and View in Your Space.

Lowe’s is trying to solve the classic pain points of home improvement shopping by giving customers the ability to see with the eyes of a contractor or interior designer, determine whether products fit in their space, virtually tile a bathroom, operate a power tool, and more. By focusing on customer problems, Lowe’s has made some of the strongest cases for consumer AR and VR to date. The retailer’s steady flow of practical immersive experiences even landed it at the top of a list of most innovative companies in AR/VR by Fast Company!


With each employee-generated idea, KLM not only gains a potentially transformative technology solution but also primes its workers for the change to digital—there’s no need to convince employees to use solutions they helped conceive of. And with each application, Lowe’s refines the XR tools that future consumers will use to visualize spaces and learn new skills; ideally positioning itself to scale when the time comes, build customer loyalty and future-proof its business from online competition.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, comes to Munich, Germany on October 18-19, 2018. CXOs, designers, developers, futurists, analysts, investors and top press will gather at the MOC Exhibition Center to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times. Tickets now available at www.aweeu.com.

 

Image source: Lowe’s via Road to VR

Could Wearables, AR/VR Fix Retail’s Brick-and-Mortar Problem?

I read an op-ed recently, the headline of which was “To save retail, let it die.” The author made a case for letting go of our notions of what a traditional retail store should offer and instead embracing emerging technologies as a means to transform brick-and-mortar retail into something new.

Rather than a place with a large inventory of products for customers to browse, try on and buy; the author predicted that physical retail spaces will become a destination for shoppers to experience something they can’t get online, something that can’t be delivered to their homes. Products won’t disappear from stores but sales won’t be their main purpose—they will be dynamic spaces for brands to engage and build relationships with consumers; where consumers will be able to have exciting product experiences (in AR and VR perhaps,) learn and be entertained.

If the retail industry were to save itself this way, actual sales might never occur onsite but the inspiration or impetus behind them would; and today’s retail spaces and operations will need to be redesigned, re-staffed and re-managed to make it all possible. Sleek, minimalist stores that focus on customer experience as opposed to stocking and moving inventory (picture the Apple Store with a single table of cutting-edge technology demos) might seem like something out of The Jetsons, but automotive companies are already going there. Cadillac, Volvo, Hyundai, Audi and Ford are all experimenting with Augmented and Virtual Reality to make the dealership experience more exciting, efficient (downsize in space,) and still necessary to the final act of purchasing. You may very well go to a dealership one day that has just one vehicle on the floor, and still be able to explore and test drive hundreds of different car options through an AR/VR headset.

The reality is that consumers today are more empowered than ever before thanks to web-enabled, in-home research and buying capabilities; and the mall, shop and showroom experiences are no longer essential to making purchase decisions. Gap just announced it is closing 200 of its stores; and Sears – struggling to compete with Amazon and a newly e-commerce-focused Walmart – is closing about the same number of Kmart stores. But all those millions of square feet of retail space don’t have to “go to waste.” It’s time for retailers to step up their innovation efforts, part with tradition, overhaul their business models, reconnect with shoppers, and create the brick-and-mortar store of the future. Read how some retailers are beginning to do so using wearable technologies:

 

Uniqlo

In 2015, Japanese retailer Uniqlo trialed wearable neuroscience technology at several of its stores in Australia. The idea behind the experiment: In the future, store customer service will include the ability to match clothing to the shopper’s mood.

The wearable device Uniqlo customers had the chance to experience was UMood. After putting on the brainwave-reading headset, the shopper was shown a series of video clips. The technology read his/her brain activity to determine a mood, and ultimately recommended the perfect t-shirt based upon those responses. The algorithm used accounted for the wearer’s interest, like, concentration, stress and drowsiness in order to narrow down from among over 600 t-shirt styles.

Uniqlo said this experiment was not about consumer research so much as engaging customers in the physical store, and providing a new and hopefully helpful shopping experience.

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Arctic Cat

In 2016, the snowmobile and ATV manufacturer developed the immersive Arctic Cat 360 experience. At event displays and dealerships, consumers could put on a Samsung Gear VR headset and virtually ride new snowmobile models in a dream snowmobiling destination complete with steep, adrenaline-pumping drops and climbs.

The company launched the virtual reality experience along with pro backcountry snowmobilers Rob Kincaid and David McClure at its annual snowmobile dealer show. Consumers responded really well to the virtual snowmobile ride, leading Arctic Cat to create a second virtual ATV ride with Tony Stewart.

The ability to provide a realistic off-roading experience right on the showroom floor using VR is a game changer for Arctic Cat. When shopping for a car, you can usually test drive a vehicle right off the dealership lot; but there isn’t always a mountain of snow just outside a snowmobile dealership suitable for a test ride. VR will also help Arctic Cat dealers learn about new models so they can better sell them.

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True Religion Apparel

As part of an initiative to “redefine the practice of clienteling,” the clothing company partnered with retail technology firm Aptos and Formula 3 Group last year to enhance its Apple Watch app “Band by True Religion.”

The Band app was fully integrated with Aptos’ CRM and Clienteling solutions, enabling True Religion sales associates to offer more personalized in-store customer service through rich customer insights made “glanceable” on their wrists. Every time a True Religion loyalty member entered a store, employees received a haptic alert via their Apple Watches. By tapping the watch, a wealth of valuable information about that customer, including his/her online and in-store shopping history, buying patterns and product recommendations, would appear on the screen for the salesperson to leverage. The solution also displayed social media profile pictures so employees could greet shoppers by name; revealed trending products; and filtered items by price point.

This kind of retail personalization does more than convert sales. With high employee turnover common in brick-and-mortar retail today, consumers are accustomed to working with a different salesperson every time they shop. True Religion’s Apple Watch solution makes the in-store shopping experience more pleasurable and helpful and therefore more significant. You won’t get this kind of service, with an associate by your side who seems to know you, anywhere else.

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North Face

When it’s so convenient to shop online, new product or sales is not enough to lure customers into your store. Whereas Uniqlo and True Religion employed wearable tech to personalize in-store customer service; Arctic Cat and North Face looked to VR to make store shopping more fun.

In 2016, North Face debuted two Virtual Reality videos featuring immersive, “breath-taking” views of Yosemite National Park, Utah’s Moab Desert, and Nepal. The outdoor recreation brand also stocked three of its California stores with VR headsets so shoppers – especially millennials – could watch the videos, hopefully become inspired and make purchases to bring the VR experience to life.

For the Nepal VR experience, North Face partnered with Outside Magazine to send subscribers Google Cardboards with which they could view the video. This is essentially repurposing content, a way to bring the wilderness both inside stores and inside potential customers’ homes to encourage shoppers to get outside using North Face gear.

 

Is a single brain-reading wearable; a sales associate who knows your name and the items you left in your online shopping cart; or a store-exclusive VR experience going to save brick-and-mortar retail? No, but the above use cases are a good sign of brands experimenting with emerging technologies to revamp the in-store experience.

 

About EWTS Fall 2017:

The Fall Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place October 18-19, 2017 in Boston, MA is the leading event for wearable technology in enterprise. It is also the only true enterprise event in the wearables space, with the speakers and audience members hailing from top enterprise organizations across the industry spectrum. Consisting of real-world case studies, engaging workshops, and expert-led panel discussions on such topics as enterprise applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, head-mounted displays, and body-worn devices, plus key challenges, best practices, and more; EWTS is the best opportunity for you to hear and learn from those organizations who have successfully utilized wearables in their operations. 

photo credit: n.karim Some People via photopin (license)

Top Features of Smart Glasses: See-what-I-see Communication

What are the main features of smart glasses that make them so attractive to enterprises? Real enterprise organizations – both large and small – are seeing real benefits and improvements from the adoption of smart eyewear among their workforces. You need only read the speaker lineup for next month’s EWTS East to appreciate that smart glasses and other wearables are alive, in use, and evolving at some of the world’s largest and most powerful companies, including General Electric, Walmart, BMW, and Boeing. Continue reading “Top Features of Smart Glasses: See-what-I-see Communication”

The Fate of Wearables in Retail: A Waiting Game

Retail is an interesting industry in which to ponder the future of wearable technology, because it banks so much on consumers. Retail literally thrives on consumers–their likes and dislikes, shopping patterns, buying habits, technological means, etc. And since retailers must be so in tune with consumer trends and preferences, they must also wait upon consumers to determine the real or ultimate value of wearable technology to their brands. Retailers are not just evaluating wearables from an employee standpoint – deciding whether to arm workers with wearable devices like smart glasses and smartwatches to help them perform faster and better – but also from the customer POV. This is an industry where consumer-facing applications of wearables are not just a possibility but rather a must, and employee-facing ones are the option. Continue reading “The Fate of Wearables in Retail: A Waiting Game”

Beyond Shiny Objects in Retail Wearables

Written by Special Guest Blogger Michael Perman, former Dean of Innovation at Gap, Inc. 

 

Fashion wearables is an exciting market right now with a lot of shooting stars and shiny objects to admire upon the blue horizon. First, let’s bless the ingenuity of those who are elegantly merging form and function. At the same time, it’s good to pause for a moment and think about the future of fashion/function wearables and begin discerning what will become meaningful vs. what is just entertaining and stylish. And, in addition, consider the possible roles for wearables in a retail setting to augment the shopping experience. Continue reading “Beyond Shiny Objects in Retail Wearables”

Interview with an Innovator: Gap’s Michael Perman on Wearable Tech

Welcome to another exclusive interview with a top user of wearable technology in enterprise. From first-class physicians to innovation seekers in industry, we give you insight into the experiences of those pioneering the use of wearables in the workplace–in their own words.

We recently sent over some questions to Michael Perman, Dean of Innovation at a little well-known retail brand called Gap. Read his answers below, and catch his presentation “C’est what? Leveraging Mindful Design for Innovation” at EWTS East in Atlanta this June.
Continue reading “Interview with an Innovator: Gap’s Michael Perman on Wearable Tech”