The idea that Virtual Reality (VR) technology isn’t far away from being commercially available to the mass market still seems more like science fiction than reality, especially when it comes to photos of people sat in trendy cafes with a head-set on, like an extra from Blade Runner. But it’s real and virtual reality will prove itself over the next few years to be something that will either change the way we live or just a passing, impractical fad, and eCommerce is one of the key aspects that will determine if it’s a success or not.
It’s a cliche to say that money makes the world go around, but in the tech world it’s certainly true. Google Glass failed to prove that it could integrate into our daily lives enough to make it worthwhile, and VR will go the same way if brands and eCommerce sites can’t find a way that it can add value to their offers. And ‘adding value’ means more than just extra bells and whistles that do little more than add time to a customer’s purchase journey.
A sign of how seriously VR is being taken by brands is that the PlayStation VR is due out later this year, and Sony has so far done little wrong when it comes to embracing new technologies and selling them to the mass market (of course, you could have said the same about Google before the Glass set-back). However, there are issues already, with a new upgraded version of the PS4 (either called PS4.5 or PS Neo, depending on which reports you read) also being launched around the same time, which has met with some controversy.
It seems that the existing models of PS4 will struggle to cope with the demands of PS VR, and that is the kind of problem that could be disastrous for getting the new technology embraced by a large audience. If that audience has already splashed out for a PS4 in the last couple of years and is willing to spend a similar sum on the VR hardware, are they really going to be happy either settling for poorer performance or the need to already replace their console so soon after buying it?
Of course, PlayStation VR is just one model of VR headset, and the likes of Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear are already jostling for position and trying to establish themselves at the head of the market. So we’re now at the stage where retailers and brands across the world will be experimenting with what this new technology can bring to their attempts to get noticed and get customers to use virtual reality to buy from them. Here’s some examples of how it’s being done so far:
Virtual Shops & Real Purchases
SapientNitro won a Best Storytelling In Advertising: AR, VR, Immersive award last November for its VR work with Apartment By The Line, which was launched at last summer’s Cannes Lions festival and offered people the chance to virtually shop at the trendy New York clothing store while being on the French riviera instead. It wowed everyone who tried the demo and clearly won favour within the industry too.
The ability to actually buy items while using VR technology demonstrates exactly where it can go in the future and how exciting the possibilities really are, as Adrian Slobin, Vice President and Global Innovation Lead for SapientNitro said: “While VR will likely leave its mark on nearly every industry, perhaps none is poised for transformation more than retail.” Gary Koepke, Chief Creative Officer, went further, saying: “For many retailers and brands, the challenge with VR is not simply to create a captivating experience, but to develop one that strengthens the brand’s story, builds customer loyalty, and generates business results.”
Put it this way, mobile commerce has become such a part of the way we live because it makes it easier and more convenient to shop online, which keeps up going back to the same places where we’ve had good experiences. It will work the same way with VR, and while not many of us can probably afford to buy anything from The Apartment By The Line (random product selection – three tealight holders for $74), this technology can work for any kind of retailer just as well in theory.
Bring Your Products To Life
Ikea introduced augmented reality in its 2014 catalogue, giving customers the chance to use that technology to help them picture products from the catalogue in their own homes. While that technology was still in its infancy and had its flaws in the way it worked, it was a neat trick and a way of helping customers do what they’ve had to rely on their imagination to do in the past, and that is exactly the kind of useful way brands can bring their products to life with VR and AR. Ikea continues to experiment with this technology, recently launching a virtual reality kitchen showroom.
Marks And Spencer tried something similar last year with pop-up virtual reality showrooms using Oculus Rift to help customers plan their ideal living space, with the help of a VR avatar called Amy. It was a bit of a gimmick and a marketing stunt rather than something instantly useable, not least because not many of us live in the kind of trendy loft apartment that M&S was letting its customers design, but it demonstrated the potential this technology has if done right.
Enhancing Your Customers’ Experiences
This is a tricky one, because it offers up plenty of potential for falling into the ‘too many bells and whistles’ trap of using technology because it’s there, not because it can really be useful. Anything that gets in the way of getting your customer to pick what they want to buy and then buy it is to be avoided, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of ways to incorporate VR to enhance your customers’ journey. Last year Patron used a drone to give VR customers a ‘bees eye view’ flying through its distillery, which is the kind of fun brand engagement we’ll hopefully see more of when the technology is strapped to more faces.
Virtual Reality brings with it lots of opportunities for brands to revolutionise their purchase journeys in both good and bad ways, and as the technology becomes more widely available we’ll have lots of examples of both. What brands have you seen use it well so far? Let us know in the comments section or via social media, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to receive more articles straight to your inbox.