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Virtual Reality Will Have Its Biggest Holiday Season Ever

A person wearing an HTC Vive virtual reality headset in Tokyo, Japan on July 13, 2017. Tomohiro Ohsumi—Getty Images

You’d better watch out: virtual reality and its close cousin, augmented reality, will have a big impact on the holiday season this year. From in-store apps to augmented holiday sweaters, I’m keeping a list of what’s naughty and nice with digital reality. Here’s what to expect for the 2017 holiday season.

Preparing retail staff

If you fear the out-of-control Black Friday shoppers, imagine the stress that store personnel must face. To help prepare them for the annual onslaught of bargain hunters, some retailers are using Oculus Rift headsets to train employees on how to handle challenging customer scenarios before they interact with busy shoppers in the real world. In one VR experience, for example, an employee must handle a difficult customer and decide how to de-escalate the conflict. The goal of virtual reality training—which completely immerses trainees in a simulation environment—is to make holiday shopping safe and more enjoyable for all.

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In-store customer experience

With hundreds of millions of people having already downloaded augmented reality games and apps, many retailers are now building their own apps to make shopping more convenient. Gap’s Dressing Room app, for example, lets shoppers see clothing styles on five different body types on their mobile device’s screens via virtual mannequins. Hoping to pick out new furniture for the holiday season? Not a problem with companies like Target, Ikea, and Anthropologie creating apps that let you customize fabrics, textures, and finishes of furniture that you can virtually position in your own home while you shop. And if you are sprucing up the place before visitors arrive, Lowe’s has created two apps for measuring and furnishing your home. As exciting as presents are, shopping can be as painful as getting two lumps of coals for children, so Toys “R” Us has gamified the in-store shopping experience with its AR app Play Chaser. Kids can earn virtual points as they traverse the store playing games while parents shop. What all these forward-thinking retailers have discovered is that the more shoppers can visualize how products will look in their world, the more likely they will be to buy them.

Holiday cards

Musical greeting cards are so 20th century. Now anyone can create and send augmented reality cards that are customized with videos and 3-D graphics. For those who like to send cards listing everything the family has done in the past year, now augmented reality cards from sites such as Blippar and iGreet let you show your favorite selfies along with animated trees and dynamic presents. A free downloadable app makes all the magic happen on Android and IOS phones and tablets. For the do-it-yourself crowd, YouTube even has videos of simple AR holiday cards you can make for free.

Gifts

All I want for Christmas is VR, according to a new study by Global Web Index. One in four millennials put VR gadgets at the top of their wish list this holiday season. And there are plenty of options to chose from with more than a dozen headsets on store shelves. Prices range from under $20 for Google’s bare bones Cardboard, to up to $600 for more advanced headsets with 1080 x 1200 resolution (per eye). To stand out in the competition, many manufacturers sell their hardware systems in bundles that include free games and accessories. And for the Star Wars fan who has everything, the Jedi Challenges AR headset comes complete with a light saber motion-tracking, at a suggested price of $199.

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Stuffed animals have long been a popular holiday gift for kids, and now AR can bring the teddy bear to life. Parker is an augmented reality ready teddy sold exclusively by Apple for under $60. The 14-inch tall cuddly bear’s belly works like a QR code that is recognized by the companion app. Children can hold their tablets over the bear to activate the interactive activities, create scenes, and play games. This modern, 21st century bear even plays doctor, complete with AR-enabled X-ray bib, stethoscope, and thermometer.

Looking for a more whimsical gift? Replace the tacky holiday sweater with an equally tacky augmented reality shirt that really stands out. Augmented reality shirts come with apps that recognize the shirt’s graphics and turn static images into fun animated clothing. Friends can hold up their phones or tablets to see the shirts seemingly show x-ray views (ie. internal organs) of people wearing them or make a dinosaur roar. Companies such as Curiscope and Texiar have created a wide range of fun animated t-shirts that are perfect for office secret Santas and fun stocking stuffers. For those wanting to create their own augmented clothing from scratch, Onvert.com has a simple app that you can use to upload your artwork and gifs. If you must have the classic holiday sweater to accompany your eggnog, the British company Cheesy Christmas Jumpers makes augmented reality sweaters that play music and even have Santa ho-hoing along.

Whether you and your family celebrate together or virtually, the myriad of fun, festive, digital reality technologies available this year should make your holidays merry and bright.

Jay Samit is independent vice chairman of Deloitte’s Digital Reality practice and author of the bestselling book “Disrupt You!

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