At retail, many of the recent whispers about aisle reinvention lately have revolved around virtual reality. Whether the buzz translates into reality hinges on the following question: How do we, as marketers, bring VR to life for the Walmart or Target shopper in a way that actually improves his or her shopping experience?
Despite several VR headsets making their way to the masses, these products essentially amount to a gimmicky (and in many cases, outrageously expensive) experience. For most consumers, VR is associated strictly with video games, as its transition to the commerce space has been limited so far.
Savvy retailers will find ways to use VR in-store and immerse consumers into an un-tapped world of the products they are selling, giving new meaning to impulse and emotionally based sales. Lowe’s is experimenting with VR by allowing shoppers to design the room of their dreams. By wearing a virtual reality headset, shoppers can see exactly what a completed room would like from all angles of the home. Lexus offers Oculus Rift glasses to potential buyers at a car dealership, where customers can take a virtual test drive of their new models in a more realistic way than a regular driving simulator.
But it’s the online and e-commerce market that has the most to gain from VR technology. Consumers who have access to virtual-reality headsets can simply view a product on TV, their tablet or mobile device, and see how the product fits in the world around them. With one click of a button, the item can be purchased.
Making VR a consumer success for is not going to be easy. Most likely, the traction will come when marketers swap out the ‘v’ for an ‘a’ and get into augmented reality. Then we’ll have something that’s more applicable to a CPG company.
For example, we can create an AR app that overlays what consumers see on their cameras and will shine over a recipe at a store, generating an instant coupon. Or, we can create an overlay of a map of a store that helps consumers navigate the aisles. Baby steps, yes, but at least more practical than anything VR currently has to offer.
What could also play a role in the future of VR is the Internet of Things. For example, an IoT device could allow a retailer to virtually bring its aisles into shopper’s living room. Given how much time consumers are spending shopping away from stores, this is a reason to get excited. Brands will have another way to tell their stories, and hopefully, generate additional sales.
For VR to realize its potential, it needs to deliver that ‘wow’ experience. Look no further than Apple. The iPhone introduction ushered in the entire age of the smartphone and allowed people to touch the future through a user-friendly tool that most people didn’t even know why they needed it, but wanted it anyway.
VR today doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of power. Right now, the marriage of VR and retail is sitting at its precipice. It will take one big idea—that iPhone moment—for consumers to see it as more than a novelty and it becomes a must-have for everyone.