The buzz around virtual reality seems to be growing every day. Near weekly headlines from tech summits, futurists and business press alike alert us to the fact that VR is here to stay, and evolving at an amazing rate. Belief in VR led Mark Zuckerberg to purchase the top VR company for $2 billion – so how much should it be on your radar now?
Retailers and brands also are starting to wrap their heads around this new engagement medium, with some already implementing it in important ways that build a stronger bridge between themselves and their shoppers. For instance:
- Tommy Hilfiger uses VR headsets in-store to let shoppers watch real runway shows in between marathon fitting room sessions. This use of VR really ups the ante for in-store entertainment, and bodes well for the kind of engagement that could persuade shoppers to travel to brick and mortar to do their purchasing vs. going online.
- Volvo is using VR at dealerships to showcase the hidden benefits found beneath the sheet metal of their newest vehicles, and to demonstrate how the car’s various systems work. Though apps are the leading tool for aiding/informing purchase decisions at the moment, this application of VR is far more advanced and likely much more persuasive.
- Patrón uses 3D video, displayed via VR headsets, to tell the rich story behind the way their tequila is made. With this move, Patrón joins other early pioneers in truly exploring one of VR’s best uses: immersive storytelling.
Given all of this, it still remains that only a very small percentage of the US population has experienced VR first-hand, begging the question, “If this is VR’s infancy, what is on the horizon from brands and retailers?”
If the history of recent shopper tech repeats itself (e.g., apps), then there will likely be some abuses of VR from brands and retailers mindlessly latching on, to complete their checklist of tactics. Thankfully, there are sure to be more incredible milestones to come – such as those that elevate VR from an immersive yet passive experience, to an interactive experience that could only exist in a limitless virtual world. (See the American Express “You vs. Sharapova” experience, which was supported by Momentum Worldwide, for glimpse of this next frontier in active branded experiences.)
If you are a brand or retailer currently losing your grip on your shoppers, thanks to e-commerce, and tired of watching mobile shopper apps further condition users to pledge their loyalty to the almighty exclusive offer, perhaps right now is the time to push in your chips and determine how to harness the power of VR. You should identify what challenges or business goals you are currently struggling with, then have the exploratory conversations with one of the leading VR companies such as Oculus Rift to see how a current weakness or whitespace can become your next competitive advantage.
Testing strategic opportunities to build experience could help VR improve the future of the in-store experience – making the store the portal to a whole new world of experience.
Matt O'Toole is a shopper analyst in the Momentum Chicago office.