Virtual Reality in Retail: Growing the Potential
The growth of Virtual reality in retail has exploded in recent years. The impact of this technological development on the gaming industry is clear. Perhaps more surprising is the dramatic impact it is having on commerce. Commerce is steadily evolving. The only way to stay competitive is to bring virtual and augmented reality into the business.
With VR and AR, customers can interface with products on a whole new level. Many retail stores are using AR to gamify the customer experience. VR makes shopping more entertaining, engaging, and educational. These technologies are reshaping how we operate as consumers.
The Growth of Virtual Reality in eCommerce
Businesses that rely only on electronic transactions face some disadvantages. Their stores can be open day and night and need no store permits, maintenance, or leasing. Despite this, they still face a lower conversion rate than physical stores. More than ¾ of online shoppers leave a site before finalizing their sale. A recent Retail Dive Consumer Survey found that 62% of consumers prefer physical stores to e-shops. With eCommerce, consumers experience a “touch-feel gap.” Before, online shoppers had to base their decisions upon product descriptions and 2D images. This is limited exposure to the product. It leaves customers without the trust they get from traditional brick-and-mortar shops.
Customers have access to a broader range of products that would be available in physical shops. VR systems can also make product suggestions based on previous selections, streamlining customer experience based on personal preferences. With VR, users can create and customize product combinations. This immersive VR retail experience provides an engaging, distraction-free shopping atmosphere. Best of all, users can shop from anywhere in the world.
Virtual Reality Shopping Experience
VR can make online stores more like physical shops and help to bridge the “trust gap.” Providers in the eCommerce industry rely on current innovation and technology to stay competitive. Virtual reality and Augmented reality are the height of this new technology.
Lowe’s is one company at the forefront of the virtual revolution. The Lowe’s Holoroom is a virtual feature that allows customers to visualize home improvement projects. Users can design and customize the interior of any room in their home with a tablet. After they design the room, they can view it in the Holoroom with a VR headset. Once the design is finalized, customers are given a Google Cardboard VR headset which can link to any smartphone.
Virtual Reality Fashion
Virtual reality has been big in the world of fashion. Charlotte Tilbury created a sensation with the first ever VR perfume ad. Tommy Hilfiger and other brands are offering another immersive fashion experience. These fashion retailers use VR to give customers a virtual runway experience. This brings more customers into physical shops and heightens interest in their products. As we can see, there are countless ways that VR can enhance the retail fashion experience.
The New York Times brought Virtual reality into journalism when it launched Daily 360 VR News. It is accessible through NYTimes.com and mobile and VR apps. This app was massively well received. More than 700 users shared their personal virtual experience via Instagram. The average viewing time was 14.7 minutes, and 92% of videos were viewed in Cardboard mode. An added benefit to this approach is that the experience is compelling even without a Cardboard viewer. This makes it more accessible to those that haven’t caught up with the trend.
Dior is another company providing an innovative virtual experience. Rather than offering a traditional runway show, Dior has created a backstage virtual experience. Users can go behind the scenes at a fashion show and observe a professional makeup artist at work, getting cosmetic tips and techniques. Dior teamed with DigitasLBi Labs in France to create a proprietary VR headset, Dior Eyes. The brand has introduced this technology to select stores worldwide in June.
How to Use Augmented Reality in eCommerce?
Augmented Reality is simpler than VR and more accessible with current technology. This technology shows users an image of the world around them, but with virtual elements added to it. Rather than creating an entire immersive world, Augmented reality is used to enhance existing reality.
AR is already being used to enhance the traditional retail experience in many ways. Major clothing retailers offer AR fitting rooms. Customers can try virtual makeup, accessories, clothing, and hairstyles before making a selection. This offers customers “try before you buy” appeal, as well as a bit of engagement and fun. Many retailers use AR to increase product visualization. Customers can get extra information about products with these systems. AR can also provide customers with promotions, contests, and targeted product selection. Let’s see who is implementing AR to attract customers and expand the business.
IKEA is another company that has taken advantage of the VR/AR revolution. On the Virtual Reality level, VR pop-up booths allow customers to browse a digital showroom. Users can explore furniture combinations and virtual design rooms. They can also explore different wall colors, fabrics, color schemes, and light levels. IKEA has featured this virtual experience in-store in Berlin and pop-up booths in Kuwait, Morocco, and Jordan. These are intended to enhance customer engagement and boost foot traffic to their physical shops. The Kuwait IKEA store has seen a 19% increase in foot traffic since the installation.
Alibaba VR Shopping
Alibaba is another retailer on top of the VR trend. Alibaba offers inexpensive ($0.15) Cardboard VR viewers which pair with any smartphone. These give access to a virtual mall with thousands of products. One benefit of this approach is that the VR mall can feature products without physical stores at a customer’s location. This allows retailers to reach a wider audience. Users can make real-time purchases with a look using AliPay. Customers can also use the VR interface to pick up objects and examine them with a 360-degree view. Alibaba has used this technology to gamify shopping. Customers receive virtual promotions and contests available only to AR users.
Sephora’s Augmented Reality
Sephora has become yet another leader in the AR world. They offer iPhone-accessible technology that allows users to test makeup digitally. Sephora’s Visual Arts App uses real-time facial recognition software to allow customers to try out a wide range of cosmetics. Visual Arts transforms an iPhone or iPad into an AR mirror that shows the effect of cosmetic products. It also offers product recommendations and makeup tutorials.
Product visualization is one huge benefit of VR for eCommerce. It helps to boost marketing, improve brand recognition, and grow the business itself. VR is the new generation of product visualization. With it, customers can explore the interior of a device, design the interior of their home, or showcase their merchandise for a client. Let’s have a look at some companies who have implemented it with great success.
eBay has taken an innovative step into the realm of VR commerce. They have paired with Myer to create the first immersive VR department store app. This app lets users view an extensive selection of products from anywhere in the world. It also offers smart product recommendation. The app observes your choices and adapts future recommendations to your preference. It works with Samsung’s Gear VR. However, eBay has made it accessible to those without an expensive viewer. They offer Google Cardboard viewers called “shopticals” which can be paired with any smartphone. eBay has given out more than 20,000 free shopticals to customers, making their virtual store more accessible. To top it off, shopticals sell for $0.15, so customers face little to no barrier by hardware.
Another recent development in AR is Apple’s recent release of ARkit Apple. This software development tool allows developers to make AR apps for iPads and iPhones. These apps can allow users to place virtual objects in the physical world and interact with them by looking at them in the device display. The app works with Apple’s visual odometry sensors to track the orientation and relative position of the device. With a new tool, it is easier than ever to create AR technologies which are accessible to anyone with an iPhone or iPad.
Are AR and VR Thing for the Future?
The growth of Virtual reality has been steadily increasing. There is no doubt that this technology will become mainstream soon. AR/VR technology attracts more customers into the store. It provides greater immersion for shoppers and makes brands available to a wider customer base. In the coming years, anyone trying to sell without virtual technology will be at a less advantage.
Hardware is the largest challenge currently faced by Virtual and Augmented reality. Though the industry is estimated at 4$ billion by the end of 2018, only about 5% of North Americans own VR viewers. This trend is likely to change in the coming years. Virtual reality headsets and technology are now more popular than tablets. Experts expect the virtual technology market to reach 143$ billion within the next two years.
Perhaps Jeff Booth said it best: “Interaction leads to immersion, and immersion leads to conversion.” In a digital market, brands that offer the most interaction will see the highest payoff. The takeaway? Virtual and augmented technology will be to the next generation what smartphones have been to this one. The wise retailer will explore the best ways to make use of VR and AR in their business.