AR vs. VR: Which is Most Effective for the Retail Industry?

September 15, 2023
-min read

AR and VR are on the rise in our personal and professional lives, and we’re lucky to be coming in on the ground floor with these technologies. 

But which offers the most benefits to both retailers and consumers? Read on to learn more about AR and VR and the advantages and limitations they both have in the retail sector.

AR and VR Defined

AR: Augmented reality, or AR, is a technology that works in tandem with the real world. Users can experience sounds, computer-generated images and other data through their device screens to enhance their view of reality. 

In retail, AR is used to try on clothes, for in-store navigation, information overlay and to provide a personalized shopping experience.

VR: Unlike AR, virtual reality is an artificial environment that replaces a user’s surroundings with an immersive virtual experience. Users generally have to wear a VR headset as well as use hand controllers to track their movements. 

VR is typically used by retailers to offer virtual shopping experiences, for remote shopping and even to test potential store layouts.

Key Features in Retail: AR

Interactivity: AR allows customers to visualize products in a real-world setting. That means trying on clothes at home without ordering them or seeing if that new couch or coffee table fits your vision for redecorating. 

Accessibility: AR is much more accessible than VR because it only requires the one thing we all have in our pockets: a smartphone. There’s no need to wear a headset, making it much easier to integrate into the real world.

Key Features in Retail: VR

Immersive Experience: VR tops AR when it comes to immersion. It’s the only one of the two technologies that enables you to visit a virtual store from anywhere. Plus, the design possibilities are endless. Just look at the virtual, desktop-based store that Clinique has created.

Personalization: Based on your preferences, a virtual environment can change into a space tailored to the products you want to view. If you’re focused on sports gear, for example, the environment will adjust to match your interests in that type of apparel.

Advantages and Limitations: AR

Key Advantage: AR is much easier and cheaper for consumers to implement than VR since you only need a smartphone or tablet to take advantage of it. What’s more, the learning curve isn’t as steep as it is for VR since people are already familiar with these devices. Navigating a virtual world might prove difficult for those who are unfamiliar with VR in general. 

Limitation: VR is much more immersive than AR can ever be. While it’s not a disadvantage, per se, it’s certainly a limitation for those who either don’t have a VR headset or simply haven’t experienced a virtual shopping experience.

Advantages and Limitations: VR

Key Advantage: The limitation of AR is precisely the key advantage of what VR offers. We’ve already said how VR is more immersive, but it goes much deeper than that. VR gives a much richer, more personalized shopping experience. The journey from browsing to purchasing is far more engaging, and consumers can better interact with a brand, its history, and the story behind its products.

Limitation: According to Zippia, there are roughly 171 million VR users worldwide. This might sound like a lot but, in reality, it’s still not enough for many retailers to provide a virtual store or for consumers to generate the demand for them to exist. Right now, at least. Since VR requires specialized hardware, this limits its reach and popularity somewhat.

In Summary

Neither technology is better than the other. While AR overlays the physical world, VR transports you to a virtual one. Both have their advantages and limitations. The most effective one for you really depends on what your specific needs are and which technology you’re most comfortable using. 

Whether you’re a retailer expanding your customers’ experience or a consumer taking advantage of the efficiency of these technologies, we recommend using both for a complete experience.