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VR shopping to spell the end of high street stores by 2050

Virtual reality (VR) shopping sprees could bring an end to physical high street retailers by 2050, analysts have predicted.

Instead people will make all their purchases from home, trying on clothes in virtual reality changing rooms and getting advice from artificial intelligence (AI) shop assistants that know exactly how to cater for their tastes.

Online purchases will also be delivered into the back garden by flying robot drones that will become a part of everyday life, according to experts writing in The Future of Shopping report.

Amazon already launched a project exploring the safe use of drones for home deliveries earlier this year with support from the UK government. 

The predicted upcoming changes to the high street have been touted as shopping’s “fourth industrial revolution” - a merging of physical, digital and biological technologies.

The Future of Shopping report forecasts that a number of emerging technologies will gain prominence in the retail sector:

  • VR headsets that gauge your mood in the lighting and atmosphere of a simulated store
  • Immersive virtual experiences involving products, such as visiting a cocoa farm to watch beans being picked and processed to make chocolate
  • AI assistants that know your interests and tastes better than you do and can pre-empt purchases. For instance, shortly before a seaside holiday they might show you a range of swimwear
  • Holographic fashion shows held in unusual locations

Co-author Russell Freeman, chief technology officer at digital marketing agency Holition, said: “It’s ironic that the fashion industry is renowned for its innovation, yet the way we shop is so old-fashioned. From having to use a changing room, to being offered limited space in a shop, the whole experience is generic.

“The future of shopping offers personalised experiences for people, dependent on their taste and mood, and at Holition we see it as the humanising of technology.

“Augmented reality, virtual reality, drone delivery and artificial intelligence will completely change the way we shop. It’s an exciting time - on the cusp of a revolution.”

Paul Jackson, chief executive of EngineeringUK, said: “It is the young people studying maths and science today who will drive this ‘revolution’ in the future.

“They will build on advances in artificial intelligence, drones and virtual reality and develop other innovative technologies that will shape our day-to-day lives.”

In January, the Information Commissioner’s Office warned that retailers now have the ability to track individuals through their Wi-Fi-connected smartphones and recognise them using video analysis, information that could be exploited without customers knowledge. 

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