The public is not yet as familiar with mixed reality as they are with virtual reality. This technology, however, is at least as promising for businesses. So what role can mixed reality play in the optimization of the customer experience?
What is mixed reality?
A common definition of mixed reality (MR) is “a combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).” Where the main purpose of VR is to simulate a virtual environment, and AR puts a virtual layer on top of the real world and adds – for instance – information to what you can already see, MR combines aspects of both VR and AR: the real world is enhanced with lifelike virtual objects that can interact with their surroundings.
I call this definition “common” because experts are still bickering about the exact terminology—and rightfully so, in my opinion, because MR can also be described as an advanced version of AR. And with the help of cameras, VR systems are also shifting more and more towards MR. So it is sometimes difficult to categorize the three different – but similar – technologies. But most people agree about what MR is at its core: virtual objects become part of the world around us.
For a convincing MR experience, a smartphone will not suffice; you need special hardware. Three major players in this field are currently the HoloLens, the Meta 2, and the Magic Leap. Of these three, the HoloLens has a big advantage: It is the only headset that is already available for developers. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter who wins, as long as the technology becomes mainstream.
For now, MR applications are still experimental – mostly because of the small group of users. But judging from the existing possibilities, I expect that MR will be able to significantly change the customer experience.
Here are few examples:
1. Buying groceries
MR and supermarkets make a golden combination. Imagine walking through your local grocery store with MR glasses on. The shelves that contain products from your grocery list light up instantly so you don’t need to search the whole store to find something. Virtual arrows point you in the right direction, and interesting offers get an eye-catching color.
Can’t remember whether you still have a certain product at home? You can easily avoid buying unnecessary products by checking your virtual pantry or fridge—and if you have any questions regarding a product, you need only look at the shelves. The manufacturer will gladly provide information via a visually appealing interactive virtual layer.
2. Shopping for clothes
Fitting rooms (and maybe even clothing stores) are becoming more and more superfluous, because with MR you can try on clothes at anyplace and anytime. You also don’t need to worry about searching for another size or color. It may sound futuristic, but we are not that far away from it becoming reality. Shops are already using smart fitting rooms and mirrors that transform the customer experience.
Such mirrors scan the products you’ve selected and show, for instance, other sizes and colors that are in stock, or suggest other garments or accessories that will complement your current selection. Want to dim the light or ask an employee for advice? Just push the button and you will be served.
3. Interior design
If you don’t want to spending your entire day shopping for furniture at a busy store, MR can save you the trouble, letting you peruse furniture and other appliances from home. This has one major benefit: you can instantly determine what new model fits your own interior best. Sound familiar? That is certainly possible, because there are already AR apps available for smartphones and tablets that work in a similar kind of way.
IKEA developed an app three years ago that enables customers to scan the catalog and place virtual furniture in their homes. But this tool is child’s play compared to the latest MR solutions, such as one that lets Lowe’s customers virtually design an entire kitchen, including all appliances.
4. Buying a car
Car manufacturers are also implementing MR to improve customer experiences by enabling them to drive hyper-realistic models right on the spot. This means visits to multiple car dealerships are no longer necessary; you can simply shop for a car from your cozy chair in front of the TV. Just like in a game, you can zoom in on car parts, try out different colors, and pick out add-ons. Buying a car was never so comfortable—or so much fun!
Are you curious about how your new car will look on your driveway or in your garage? Walk outside and find out. Volvo uses HoloLens for this purpose. MR also makes the buying process for other types of vehicles, such as bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, and boats, a lot easier and more fun.
5. Customer service
These examples are mostly about the orientation phase of the customer journey. But even after the purchase, MR can be used to create an optimized customer experience. It can help the customer put together a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kit, whether for connecting electric wires or installing company software.
If you have no experience with light bulbs, sinks, or sewerage, a specialist can help you from a distance by using MR to point out the right tool or to explain what to do with the help of animated visuals. This type of service saves time and cost because the specialist does not have to come to you in order to help you.
MR in other industries
With a little bit of imagination, every industry can use MR technology to enrich the customer experience. I see a future where festivals and hotels can be virtually dressed up with objects and animations that fit the theme. In restaurants you can see the dish in front of you before you order. And with sports events, reruns are life-sized, projected above the field.
Realtors can show potential buyers how their furniture would look inside a home. Banks can provide customers with real-time information on their bank account, including expected resources and previous purchases – presented with visually attractive graphs and charts. In theory, the possibilities are endless.
Still, we need to be realistic. MR technology is still in the early stages of development, and questions remain about how broad consumers and businesses will adopt it. Also, MR headsets aren’t cheap. But these challenges will be faced in the near future, and MR could most definitely revolutionize the customer experience.
MR is promising, but for now, we should enjoy our pure reality—even if that means that trip to the grocery store will take 10 or 5 minutes longer than planned.
For more on this topic, see 4 Ways AR And VR Will Fuel The Future Of Work.