Virtual Reality is reshaping industries all across the globe, but what opportunities does it have to offer the world of retail? Just off the top of our heads, VR is predicted to reduce marketing costs, cut down on product returns and provide effective data analytics on consumer behaviour. But most of all, with the likes of virtual tours and virtual walkthroughs, VR opens the door to offering rich and engaging content – which is the critical factor in attracting consumer buys.

 

 

1.Telling a Story

In this age, consumers are willing to spend; but they’re willing to spend only with the brands that connect with them the most. And that comes most of all through brand stories. Maybe a brand is supporting a cause that consumers care about, or stands for an idea that consumers agree with.


Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

 

Toms shoes company has used VR to this effect, with great success. By putting Samsung VR headsets into 100 of their stores with a promotional video, they highlighted their campaign to donate a pair of shoes for every pair sold in the most immersive way. Customers put on the headset and were greeted by a panoramic view of schools in Peru, and kids happily getting boxes of shoes.

Of course, they could just tell the customers; but letting them experience it firsthand connected with them on an emotional level; creating memorable engagement and by extension a higher rate of sales.

 

 


Image courtesy of Audi.

 

2.Going Beyond the Store…

For a lot of products, a critical barrier for consumers is that they can’t actually test the product in real life scenarios before purchasing it. One of VR’s most obvious applications is providing a ‘try-before-you-buy’ solution to the consumer experience, allowing consumers to try out the product

in virtually replicated scenarios before they make a purchase decision.

We’ve talked about AR helping customers try out furniture in their homes here, but what VR does differently is it places the customer in an immersive environment, letting them experience products or services even if they’re too large, too far away or too elaborate.

For example: Audi is now employing virtual tours in their showrooms, allowing customers to take cars for test drives without leaving the comfort of the showroom.

 

 

 

In South Korea, The North Face  introduced a groundbreaking virtual tour experience in their stores, letting customers put on a headset and be transported to the South Pole – the perfect environment to test out The North Face’s signature outdoor winter wear. This way, customers could experience the scenarios in which you’d need their products – without having to buy it and fly to the South Pole first.

3. … Or Not Needing the Store at All

Of course, we would be amiss if we didn’t mention the most obvious point here. Utilising VR means that consumers can undergo the entire customer journey from the comfort of their own homes.

With Buy+, Alibaba has introduced the world’s first fully VR shopping experience. While still in progress, Buy+ brings customers to a virtual tour of a departmental store – letting them walk around, view prices and product details with a touch of a button, as well as buy them on the spot.

With such a holistic virtual walkthrough, one wouldn’t even need to leave their couch to go on a shopping spree on the other side of the world. And by creating a one-stop solution for customers to survey, test and buy on the spot – you can bet on them loving it and coming back for more.

4. Better Customer Service

93% of customers are more likely to come back for repeat business if they’re satisfied with how you resolve an issue. Customer service can be very frustrating for both the customer and the staff – often, the experience is long and maddening, beginning from customers not understanding the issue and not being able to explain it effectively, or staff being unable to visualise the issue properly.

 

Now, how does VR solve this? With the 360° perspective that VR offers (and the ability to record and share what the user sees) customers can skip the explanation part and let staff directly see what the problem is. It also lets customers view how the staff are fixing the issue directly, and learn how to fix it themselves.

 

Think of this as a post-sale virtual walkthrough, which makes for a much better customer experience – meaning less customers being frustrated with technical issues and less stressed staff having to deal with angry customer calls. Also, customers might even have fun fixing issues this way!

5. Analytics and Feedback

To get right down to it, creating a virtual store is cheaper than building a real one. Even if the plan is to go ahead with a brick-and-mortar store, creating a virtual tour beforehand can lead to efficient A/B testing in visualising store designs and layouts.

On the consumer end, VR analytics can help gather more data on best performing tactics, consumer behaviour patterns and acceptance.

By understanding how people shop and mapping out the consumer journey in a more concise manner, businesses can figure out the right approach and optimise to prevent mistakes before they happen.

This helps you get store layout and placements right before actually committing to building them, thus saving a ton of trial-and-error costs in the long run.

 

 

Conquer the Market

People always want to try new things, so VR initiatives can help set you aside from the competition.  With VR devices rapidly becoming more affordable, and given the rate at which technology grows; it’s not if, but when will the majority of businesses adopt these technologies.

So, the question to ask is: are you ready to enhance your business with VR, or will you be left trying to catch up to others in the near future?