TarekTalje is the senior manager – e-commerce, Gulf region at Procter & Gamble (P&G), a multinational consumer goods corporation. In an interview with Muscat Daily, Talje talked about how the new technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are reshaping the consumer goods industry and the possibilities of deploying these technologies in the retail industry in the Gulf region.
How are new technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality reshaping the consumer goods and retail industries?
We are seeing an increasing take-up of new technologies in retail shopping. These new technologies are enabling consumers to virtually try on clothing or apply make-up through 3D apps. Shoppers are asking for apps that can help them in identifying specific ingredients when scanning a product, asking other users for reviews on an item, and providing a price comparison on the spot. Some apps are making shopping a simpler experience. One AR-based program allows users to create a shopping list in the app and that app will then guide them through the store using the quickest route possible.
There are tremendous possibilities when it comes to the use of technology in retail. What retailers and brands need to do is look at how technologies such as AR, VR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can enrich the shopping experience, and then look to experiment with different ideas. Given the Gulf region’s love for new technologies, retailers have gone to be creative when it comes to using these technologies as a point of differentiation.
In the era of e-commerce, how do you see the scope of these new methods in the Gulf countries where home delivery of products is still not much popular compared to other geographies?
These technologies are becoming more mainstream for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have in our hands incredibly powerful tools; we can do so much with today’s smartphones. Secondly, the cost of creating apps and programs which use AR and VR is falling significantly, thanks in part to developer tools from the phone manufacturers. And third, consumers are more open to using technology whilst they are shopping. These apps were once a novelty but now they are increasingly becoming mainstream.
What I find interesting is that the AR and VR solutions are being used to promote both in-store shopping and online shopping. What matters to consumers is how much these technologies help them make an informed decision. If an app can help shoppers get better picture how they will wear or use that item, then that app will become a part of what we call the path to purchase. The app can help consumers better understand a product they have just bought, by helping them understand how best to use it. The point is that the technology is an enabler and the only obstacle is our own creativity. The more the retailers and brands experiment with the technology, the better they will be able to understand what works with consumers and what doesn’t in this region.
How do you see AR and VR technologies changing the shopping habits in Oman where population is sparsely distributed across a large area?
AR and VR technologies can help consumers in remote regions better understand how a product looks and can be used without needing for the product to be physically in front of them. It will also help retailers understand the demand for a specific product, enabling them to better plan for supply to meet the demand. There is so much that these technologies can do to help consumers realise what products they would like to buy, whether they are in the store or at home.
P&G operates through a single distributor in the Omani market. What changes do you expect in your business here following your push for VR and AR technologies?
Smart retailers – be they online or offline stores – understand how impactful technologies such as AR and VR can be when helping the consumer to experience, purchase and use a product. Both online and traditional brick and mortar retailers are adopting these technologies at a faster pace. The common factor here is to understand what shopping barriers can these new technologies overcome. What we want to do is encourage awareness around such technologies and their applications, so that consumers benefit from them. First movers in this region will have a major advantage over the rest of the industry, given how the smartphone technology is widespread and used here. Let’s start being creative on how we apply AR and VR solutions to the shopping experience in the Gulf region.
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