How virtual reality can be used in retail
The term virtual reality has been around since the mid 80’s when VR goggles and head mounted displays first came on the scene. Fast forward more than 30 years and it’s only now that technological developments are bringing it firmly into the mainstream.
2015 was the year VR came into its own – helped by the likes of Oculus Rift and Playstation VR launching – it marked a technological revolution for consumers.
It’s estimated that by 2020 the VR market will be worth the current value of Uber: $70 million. It is no surprise then that retail brands have been exploring how to tap into the VR market and use it to improve everyday customer experiences in a personalised and inspirational way.
Retailers are already personalising shoppers’ experience, and doing it well. Take Shop Direct for example, which serves customers with personalised product recommendations when they shop online, in real-time, based on their personal historical profile, or ‘wisdom of the crowd’ data - to ensure they find what they’re looking for as fast as possible.
Personalisation such as this – that recommends shoes with matching dresses, or the latest from your favourite brand is becoming a must, not a nice-to-have for retailers. Virtual reality now offers opportunities to take personalisation off the screen and into stores and homes.
Virtual reality and brand personalisation
VR opens a whole new world to brands, and retailers in particular, regarding personalisation and customer engagement. However because it entails hardware (currently relatively expensive) to experience it, retailers are first embracing it in-store for an immersive shopping experience.
For example, Swedish furniture supplier IKEA transports shoppers to a life-size kitchen created in a virtual world, via its VR kitchen app. Shoppers can look at different cabinets, surfaces, fittings and fixtures and even view the room from different angles and heights.
Once consumers embrace VR in-store it’s only a matter of time before it’s widely adopted online and in the home environment too
Users adjust the settings to view the room from their own perspective by either shrinking or stretching themselves to walk around the kitchen
Car manufacturer Audi also enables smartphone users to browse - and in some cases even virtually drive - Audi vehicles. In partnership with Samsung, Audi has created a virtual showroom with virtually no limits, and better yet, no salespeople wandering around to pester car buyers while they browse.
Bringing the experience to the shopper
The really innovative thing about this is that Audi is taking the experience to the shopper – and not the other way round – as consumers can access the technology from home or a kiosk in a shopping centre.
Audi reports that it takes around 30 million renderings to show off every configuration of the Audi A3, including the Sportback and S3 models, so as you can imagine it’s a pretty detailed experience.
Consumers can also book a virtual test drive where they sit in the passenger seat and an engineer drives them around, explaining the finer details of the car.
Retailers are no longer limited by the size of their stores, as North Face proved, when they used virtual reality technology to transport their customers to Yosemite National Park as they were shopping in-store. It proved a great way to enhance the customer experience through storytelling.
People want the tech
More good news – there’s an appetite for technologically –enabled shopping experiences that empower shoppers to make better informed decisions and have a more interactive customer experience.. RichRelevance recently conducted its second annual ‘Creepy or Cool’ study which reveals that 42% of UK consumers would like to see interactive changing room mirrors that model potential outfits on their image.
However, the study also revealed shoppers aren’t ready for retailers to use facial recognition software that allows them to be targeted in-store with relevant offers, with 75% of people surveyed saying they found that ‘creepy’.
In conclusion, shoppers clearly want personalised experiences from retailers and they’re open to VR being used to achieve it – but there’s a fine line before it’s too invasive.
VR is hugely important to the future of retail, particularly in-store. In creating a more exciting experience, retailers will tempt shoppers in-store and use this vastly improved experience to give customers the confidence and convenience to purchase at that time.
Once consumers embrace VR in-store it’s only a matter of time before it’s widely adopted online and in the home environment too.
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