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Intu Spearheads Virtual Reality As Retail Turns To Experience Over Transaction


Modern shopping is all about experience, and as technology improves, the boundaries between physical and virtual worlds are becoming increasingly blurred. Intu, the UK’s largest listed operator of shopping centres, is one of the most aggressive companies using technology to evolve physical shops from places of transactions to places of experiences.  

During the 2016 holiday season, the company launched a virtual reality exhibition at Victoria Centre. Guests were apprehensive at first, intu digital managing director Karen Harris said, but as shoppers become more accustomed to seeing that tech being used in the wider world, it won’t be nearly as daunting.

Even with the initial hesitance, the pilot project surprised and delighted customers, which Harris said increased dwell time in the centre over Christmas and the propensity to visit again, which ultimately benefited retailers.

In intu’s post-activity survey, 98% of respondents said they loved the experience, rating it seven out of seven, and 99% expressed enthusiasm for taking part in more VR experiences at intu’s shopping centres. This demonstrates the need to run more VR pilot projects this year as intu continues to test the boundaries of the technology, Harris said. 


The positive response has spurred intu to roll out more virtual reality experiences across its 14 centres nationwide this year as the company continues to test its benefits in a shopping environment.

In another experiment, the company worked with the National Autistic Society to use VR to show shoppers what life was like as an autistic child. It was the first time intu used the technology to explore a condition like autism, and Harris said the company received great feedback from customers.

People’s visits to shopping centres are driven as much by social factors, such as spending time with friends and family, as they are driven by retail. Shoppers are also comfortable using mobile devices to communicate, gather information, share and buy when they are out. The best tech-driven stores build on this by providing customers with yet more immersive and expansive locations.