Exploring the implications for traditional shopping, consumer preference, and potential business applications.
Virtual Reality could provide an amazing boom for the brick-and-mortar experience. Or at least it could provide a boom for the virtual Brick-and-mortar store. Walmart’s recently patented a VR shopping experience that would have visitors explore their store virtually from the comfort of their home, and I think this could be absolutely brilliant.
Walmart Files Patents For At-Home Virtual Reality Shopping
Walmart has filed two patents regarding virtual reality shopping. They describe a system in which users wear a VR…
Below are some of my musing from that article, and some of the implications that I’ve been considering from this article. The implications cover a range of different topics but primary are broken into two camps, Consumer & Business implications.
The effects of consumer information overload.
What’s one thing that we all know to be true. Information is amazing… until it isn’t. One of the beautiful things about the internet is we can research, absorb and learn about the products we are purchasing to a degree significantly greater than we were beforehand. You would think then that people would buy nothing but the best products, but the simple truth is most of us do not have time, and buying decisions can actually be made significantly more difficult with so much information, variety, and options. Ultimately too much information is a bad thing.
A study was run in 2008 which researched the effects of information overload on consumers in an internet shopping experience. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567422308000367
Information overload for consumers is directly connected with the Paradox of Choice, where a lot of variety can actually make decisions more difficult. The more difficult the decision the less like someone is to make a decision, but perhaps more importantly the right decision.
Essentially information overload can decrease the value of a shopping experience online.
The benefits of brick-and-mortar stores
I think it’s safe to say that brick-and-mortar (or traditional shopping) has some interesting benefits that companies in the future will be striving to replicate in a VR environment. Choice and selection are less, simply because of the physical space, not only that but consumers are forced to walk through different sections which can spark a need or desire for a product not originally on a list.
I cannot even count the number of times I’ve wandered through Target with my wife, with 1 item on our list and walked out with 5. The simple reality of it is the shopping for a single item is actually significantly easier online where controlled hyper-filtered searching provides a more resolute ending, which can prevent other products from appearing.
For traditional retailers, they know that if they can get you inside for 1 item, they might be able to get you to purchase other products. Ever heard of a loss-leader?
But for consumers the shopping experience has other additional benefits:
- few product varieties — makes it simple to purchase
- help to find products or “things” — through staff help and expertise consumers can receive help to find the best solution
- finding things that solve other problems — even if they weren’t originally looking or new they had that problem
- the product is immediately with you after purchase allowing you to use it right away
All around the traditional model has some amazing benefits, but perhaps lacks above all things convenience followed closely by variety. Enter the Virtual Storefront.
There is so much potential for Virtual Reality stores to resolve the issues associated with information overload. For instance, imagine you log in to the store and can walk up to a counter, instead of being presented with 10 options and an infinite slider you could be presented with 3 simple varieties. Don’t like the varieties, simply ask for a change with your digital assistant. Out with the old in with the new. The benefits don’t end there:
- Not sure how to use a product, ask for a virtual demonstration.
- Want to see what the clothing looks like on you, simply put it on digitally with a snap of your finger.
- Like a product but want something customized, it’s easy to see how it would look digitally.
- Not a fan of the music playing in store — change it to fit you
- Not a fan of the brand's selection — change it to fit you
- Want the store to be decorated with Christmas decorations at all times — make it so
At the end of the day Walmart could transform their virtual Brick-and-mortar store to be personalized to you, and you alone.
A truly personalized shopping experience
This is the way the world is moving. No longer will people be forced to walk through the same stores, but could indeed be presented with dramatically different experiences all within the same store, while purchasing brands that you like specifically. All of this could be done from your living room.
This could be a huge win for retailers, and a huge win for consumers because it could potentially empower them to better vote with their dollars.
Vote with your dollars
We hear this all the time in political circles. Consumers should vote with their dollars. If they are not happy with a company then they should purchase products from companies that they are indeed happy with. In practice, however, this can be incredibly difficult. Information overload can actually stop us from actually looking into the products we are purchasing. In the same way that lack of variety can force us to purchase products that we would otherwise avoid.
There is some amazing potential for the continued empowerment of consumers through better eCommerce experiences.
The big get bigger but so do the challenges…
There is a downside to this, however, and that is the big companies will likely benefit from these systems significantly quicker than the smaller, which could intrench these traditionally large players even more.
But while the big get bigger they will also be presented with challenges that are even more complicated.
- maintaining ethical advertising practices
- maintaining brand & identity values and differentiation value propositions
- direct competition from other B2B companies
These are just three examples of abstracts challenges that will arise as more immersive experiences develop and opportunities arise.
Will they be ready?