vCommerce: When Stores Become Virtual
Our world is quickly becoming crowded and as populations rise we have seen no decline in the amount of shopping we do. This has led to supermarkets and retail stores growing into massive infrastructures designed to market products to unrelenting crowds of consumers. Every year that goes by brings with it a new generation of shoppers, and the increase in demand is quickly becoming unmanageable for traditional stores and customer service. Luckily we have seen relief provided by the rapid growth of eCommerce. Giants such as Amazon and eBay have swayed large parts of the shopping population to browse from the comfort of their homes, rather than crowding into department stores like sardines. These online markets have made their fortune by offering consumers a new level of convenience, a broader variety of products, and a personalized touch to their shopping experiences.
This new era of shopping does come with drawbacks when considering that there are some products you would only buy given the chance to try them out. Online markets cannot adhere to this consumers’ desire to experience the product the way department stores can and therefore a large portion of shoppers still prefer to browse in person. Another drawback is that there are some things that are simply not designed to be ordered online due to the fact that there is a still a touch and experience factor involved in its purchase. For instance, our furniture purchases are still done almost entirely through local stores. There are also very few people who would be willing to buy a car online before taking the chance to test drive it. Today’s world of commerce is in desperate need of a technology to bridge the gap between the convenience of shopping online and the assurance of shopping on site.
In steps Virtual Reality.
What was spawned from the demand of video game enthusiasts has now gained public recognition as a valuable tool. This new technology has gained enough popularity to warrant lower prices, which subsequently created the opportunities for it to move into new fields and applications. Now consumers and business alike are seeing the value that virtual reality (VR) brings to the table and how it will challenge the way consumers shop for products in the years to come.
So what exactly is virtual reality?
In a basic sense, it is a way of transporting users into computer designed worlds, allowing them to see and interact with things that aren’t really there.
“Virtual reality means creating computer-generated environments that are so convincing, users will react the same way they would in real life.” (LifeScience)
While the technology is complex, VR is not powered by magic. It is simply a matter of putting tiny screens in front of our eyes that are designed to mimic our field of view. Pair this technology with a set of good quality headphones and a sensor to track your head movement and you can create the sensation that you are truly inside a virtual world.
How will this technology effect consumers?
There are many different fields and industries that I believe virtual reality will be able to improve. The first being the clothing industry.
Currently, there are two ways that you can purchase clothing and that is by either going to a store and trying it on, or if you’re like me, ordering it online and hoping that it fits when it gets to you. While going to the store allows you to see and try on the clothing items, it is also very time consuming. Online purchasing creates a convenient alternative but there are also risks in not being able to visually see and try on the product. Just this week, I ordered a new jacket online because it was on sale but since the sale only lasted a few hours, I had to order two different sizes because I wasn’t sure which size would fit me the best. Talk about a pain not only in my bank account but also in my schedule because now I will have to go and return the jacket that doesn’t fit.
Whether you’re spending time driving to a physical location or ordering online and gambling with your order, neither way is efficient.
Virtual reality will completely eliminate both of these headaches in the retail clothing industry. VR will create a new platform for purchasing clothing by allowing the consumer to virtually try on a potential outfit. You will be able to see how it looks and how it will fit all within the comfort of your own house.
“Image you’re standing in the middle of your favorite clothing store, looking around at the shelves of jeans, shirts and accessories. You walk to a rack of T-Shirts and flick through to one that catches your eye — the store has it in your size. You add it to your shopping basket and head to the cashier… then you remove the virtual reality headset. You’re back in your living room with a cup of tea on the coffee table.” (cmswire.com)
Clothing companies will also be able to utilize this technology and be able to offer this experience to their customers. Recently Merrell, an American footwear company specializing in high-performance hiking boots (merrell.com), has created a VR experience that has its customers hiking the Dolomite's in Italy as a way to promote their launch of their newest hiking shoe. With the help of motion capture technology, Merrell was able to successfully employ this marketing tactic to allow customers to actually walk around and virtually simulate what it would be like hiking in their new hiking boot.
Another industry that we can expect VR to take-over is the home furniture store. Just image you’re redecorating your living room and want to add a few new paintings, a new couch, as well as new coffee and end tables. Typically, one would begin this process probably by going online or to Pinterest and pinning different living room designs that catch your eye by creating an inspiration board. Once this is complete, you would then measure out their living room area, go to your local furniture store, find items that match your taste and size requirements and bring it home hoping that it all looks the way you had imaged it to and fits the way that its suppose to on paper.
Now image that you get this spark of inspiration for new change of scenery. You start your process as before by going online and to Pinterest to get those creative juices flowing. Only now, instead of measuring your space and going to the furniture store, you put on your VR headset, clear your old living room layout with a click of a button and start dragging and dropping new furniture pieces right from the store into your virtually re-created living room. From here you can adjust colors, design, layout all with the swipe of your hand while still being able to see what you are envisioning in real time through your VR headset. Once you come up with the best design, you add all the items to your cart and simply checkout all without leaving the comfort of your own house.
This may seem like a far-fetched idea but furniture companies, such as IKEA, are already taking the first step towards being able to offer such a service through virtual reality. In April of 2016, IKEA got into the VR world by creating a virtual kitchen in which customers can explore, walk-around in, customize the cabinetry and view the layout from different angles (i.e. from a child’s prospective or an especially tall person’s prospective). While the graphics of this virtual kitchen can be improved, it is still a huge step towards bringing VR to the mass market. Jesper Brodin, IKEA’s managing director summed it up nicely:
“Virtual reality is developing quickly and in five to ten years it will be an integrated part of people’s lives.” (fortune.com)
The last market that I believe virtual reality will completely transform in the coming years is the automobile industry; more specifically in the way that cars are sold. Currently, if you are in the market for a new car you would go to the dealership, talk to a pushy sales man who will try to get you to buy any one of his hundreds of cars on the lot, test drive the car, and either buy it or walk away. Let’s be real, there is almost no one who would purchase a car online without test driving it first; that is unless you’re purchasing a Tesla. Virtual reality will be able to not only provide this service of ordering online but also allow the customer to not have to leave their house or deal with that annoying salesman.
Cadillac has taken on their own rendition of implementing VR by transforming their dealerships into a virtual one. As mentioned in the WSJ, “the American luxury brand is devising a new strategy for its U.S. dealership network, one that involves replacing a portion of its conventional stores with virtual reality showrooms. The new dealers won’t actually have any inventory on hand; instead they’ll feature VR headsets where customers can learn about Cadillac products while their vehicle is being serviced.” Taking this idea one step further, it isn’t too hard to image other dealerships using a similar model of utilizing VR in order to best cut down on overhead costs.
What would be the need of having every version of every car available on the lot at all times? Instead, a customer will show up and see only one or two cars in the showroom. They will put on their VR headset which will allow them to customize the paint, trim, interior, wheels, etc. of their dream car. They will be able to get into their customized car and “test drive” it virtually as they are winding through the hills of Italy. Not only will this provide a better experience for the customer but the car dealer will also benefit by not having to sit on thousands of dollars worth of cars waiting to be sold.
It is only a matter of time before VR technology becomes as good as reality allowing consumers to completely shake up the way they would traditionally purchase items that were once said to be only valuable if experienced in person.
So what does this all mean for marketers going forward?
Daniel Beauchamp, head of virtual reality at Shopify, best explains the affect VR will have on marketing as this:
“If you wanted to buy a tent in VR, would you rather be in a virtual representation of a camping store or in a virtual representation of the mountain you’d be camping on or the forest that you’d be camping in? For the first time ever, brands can actually put people in the stories that their products tell.” (ecommercefuel.com)
As a marketer, this is a huge win for us. Our sole job as a marketer is finding a way to best connect our targeted customer to our story as a brand by creating personal, powerful, and impactful marketing messages. What says personal, powerful, and impactful more than a fully immersive targeted experience directed specifically towards your wants and needs as a customer?
“Virtual Reality is not a media experience. When it’s done well, it’s an actual experience,” Stanford University, Professor Jeremy Bailenson said. “In general, our findings show that VR causes more behavior change, causes more engagement, causes more influence than other types of traditional media.” (webpronews.com)
Up until this point, marketers had no better way of conveying the value of products to customers. Now with VR, marketers can leverage this technology to showcase our products in the best light possible by allowing customers to preview the product in its indented use.
Wrapping it all up
From its start in 1960 as a way to view movies, to providing interactive game play to gamers, to being a technology that is widely recognized, virtual reality has been on the upward progression and its moment isn’t stopping anytime soon. As the back end technology becomes better, the image and display clearer and more people investing into the product, activities that were once nearly impossible to achieve are now within reach. Virtual reality will continue to progress and ultimately improve the way consumers will purchase products. Everything will be tailored specifically towards the consumers wants and needs. We will be able to instantly see and experience products that once required us to go to the physical location in order to do so. Virtual reality and subsequent technologies has quickly gone from being something out of a science fiction book to being an applicable and useful tool to marketers and customers alike.
About the Author:
Lauryn Wate is a senior at the University of Montana where she is studying Business Marketing and Management. Currently, she is in her fifth year of schooling which will allow her to graduate with two degrees in Business as well as a certificate in Digital Marketing. Lauryn is the Media Intern at PartnersCreative, a full-service local marketing agency in Missoula, MT.