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As with any new technology, there exists a number of questions. Retailers around the world are asking whether or not virtual reality has the ability to positively impact their business. This piece will outline the basics of the technology and will serve as a primer for how businesses today are looking to use it to create new valuable experiences and services now that will help drive future sales.
Virtual reality, or VR, is the generation of completely digital worlds that are accessed via an immersive headset and occasionally hand controllers. Virtual reality allows the user to explore these settings while remaining in one place in the real world.
If technology is just the expansion of the human toolkit, then it’s important to understand what it is good at accomplishing and what its current limitations are. Here is a list of the current general benefits and drawbacks of virtual reality. For those interested in pursuing these technologies, these can help frame your initiatives’ purpose and how to best market it to potential users.
On a long enough time horizon, the question of technological sophistication goes out the window. The technology will get there, it is just a question of how long. Despite being in its early years, some brands have already begun experimenting to stay ahead of the curve and provide a bit of novelty to their shoppers. But novelty for the sake of itself will quickly become old so if brands cannot find legitimate reasons for investment, it does not matter how advanced the technology is or what customers think of it. Already broad business purposes exist for virtual reality with real businesses trying out different versions. Below is brief outline of what business cases exist, how they could be imagined, and an example of what brands are doing today to utilize this technology and provide value to customers.
For those that would prefer to focus on one idea or platform at a time, here is a rough approximation of where virtual reality is best suited and why. Despite years of buzz and development and widespread release in 2016, cost and nascency of virtual reality have created an industry that is still supported mostly by enthusiasts. The cost of the set-up requires not just money, but some basic know-how and a fair amount of space, making it a hard sell for many consumers’ homes right now. As such, if retailers can justify the investment, they are best positioned to lure shoppers into their stores with this exciting and still rare technology.
It’s important to consider that neither AR nor VR is strictly better than the other and as always the use case must guide choices to best serve a business and its customers’ overarching goals. Eventually the technology may be so advanced that augmented and virtual realities are often blended, with seamless and consistent overlap between the two. Making use of augmented reality strategies (e.g. mapping bodies and faces for more accurate sizing) to supplement virtual reality stores could create truly personal digital stores that hold more promise than they do today. With plenty of time for innovation and competition, much will change in the coming years. That doesn’t mean that retailers need to be clairvoyant to make use of this exciting technology. Knowing the basics and some best-in-class examples is the first step. Iterating from there based on known user behaviours is the next.