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 use the phrase ‘common’, because experts are still bickering about the exact terminology. 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 in its core: virtual objects become part of the world around us.
For a convincing MR experience a smartphone will not suffice. You will need special hardware. Three of the 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, 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. A few examples:
1. Buying groceries
MR and supermarkets make a golden combination. Imagine yourself 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 have 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 make sure you don’t buy any unnecessary products by checking your virtual pantry or fridge. And if you have any questions regarding a product you only have to look at the shelves. The manufacturer will gladly provide information via an interactive, visually appealing 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 any desired place and time. You also don’t have to worry about to searching for another size or different 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 the customer has picked out and show – for instance – which other sizes and colors the store has in stock. Or they suggest clothes and accessories that will complement your current selection of clothes. You want do dim the light or ask an employee for advice? Just push the button and you will be served at your beck and call.
3. Interior design
If you don’t look forward spending your entire day searching for furniture in a busy store, MR can save you the trouble. Picking out furniture and other appliances can now be done from home. This has one major benefit: you can instantly determine what new model fits your own interior best. Sounds 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 through which customers could scan the catalogue to place virtual furniture in their homes. But this gadget is child’s play compared to the newest MR solutions, like the 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 a necessity; you can just as easily shop for cars 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 this much fun and comfortable!
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. With other means of transportation such as bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and boats MR makes the buying process 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 with putting together a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kit, whether for connecting electric wires or installing company software.
If you do not have experience with light bulbs, sinks or sewerage, a specialist can help you from a distance by using MR to point out the right tooling to use or to explain what has to be done with the help of animated visuals. This type of service is time- and cost-saving 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 re-runs are life-sized, projected above the field.
Realtors can show potential buyers how their furniture looks inside the home. Banks can provide customers with real-time information on their bank account, expected resources and previous purchases – of course presented in visually attractive graphs and charts. In theory, the possibilities are endless.
Still we need to be realistic: we are not sure if MR will be embraced by the masses. The technology is still in an early stage of development and MR headsets aren’t cheap. But for businesses as for consumers, I hope these challenges will be faced in the near future, because MR could most definitely revolutionize the customer experience.
MR is promising, yes. But for now, we just need to enjoy our pure reality. Even if that means our trip to the grocery store will take 10-15 minutes longer than we planned.