It’s not just about shifting stock online. By its very nature, eCommerce is a constantly changing beast and those wanting to get ahead in the market need to have their finger on the pulse.
Shockingly, 77.24% of shoppers abandon their carts before completing a purchase. This indicates that retailers need to do a lot more to convince customers to follow through with their choice and purchase items online. Virtual reality is an emerging technology that could provide the answer. Along with its sister technology - augmented reality - it has the potential to reshape the world of retail, and nearly a third of customers believe more should be invested in these technologies to ensure they play a larger role in their shopping experience.
When you consider how that will actually manifest, the mobility element of this technology is crucial. Right now, the world’s biggest companies, from Sony to Samsung, are locked in an arms race; each of them hoping to develop the most powerful, technologically advanced mobile VR product.
According to CCS Insight, by 2018 it’s estimated that 24 million VR devices will be sold globally. From this same research, the market for augmented reality smart glasses is expected to be worth $1.2 billion by the end of this year. On Amazon alone, you can find almost 200 different VR headset devices already available, and it’s not just the big boys of technology either; there are more than 450 independent companies on AngelList describing themselves as VR technology startups. From big businesses to entrepreneurs, everyone’s backing the same horse.
So where does that leave eCommerce? To understand how VR and AR could help improve online sales, we need to understand what these technologies can offer as a service (not just as a product) and what they can offer enterprises and clients alike.
1. Users can explore virtual showrooms
To add a new level of intrigue to the online shopping experience, retailers can look to build virtual showrooms or virtual stores. These platforms offer customers a virtual experience which is just about as close to heading out to a physical store as you can get from the comfort of your own home.
One of the major players in this emerging technology is Lowe’s Holoroom, a tool which is leading the way in terms of virtual showrooms. To be specific, Lowe’s Innovation Labs convey that visualizing a home improvement project is difficult but by using a virtual showroom customers are able to better visualize their ideal result.
In short, it gives the user a mocked-up version of how their home could look when kitted out with various items or products. The entire scene that users see is a virtually generated version of a home, and the immersive experience allows them to become spatially aware of how various products would work as one.
This technology has been available from Lowe’s Innovation Labs since 2014 but the kinks have been refined over the years and the VR product has steadily grown in popularity since.
It’s not just home design industries that can benefit by employing the aid of these technologies. Wide consumer markets and stores across the globe, such as eBay Australia and the Myer department store, have introduced virtual reality shops to their roster.
The core idea here is that consumers would get a far more immersive shopping experience than the online one they have now. In theory, they would put on a headset at home and immediately find themselves in the midst of a virtual superstore. Here they are free to browse the virtual products in an almost identical way to how they would if they were in a physical store.
2. Customers can virtually visualize products
Giving consumers the chance to visualize how a product would look before they actually purchase it is the very “try before you buy” novelty which many companies are trying to tap into. Rather than focussing on VR (i.e. a completely computer generated world), technology companies are also delved into the realms of AR.
Augmented reality is different to VR, as part of what users see is a video of reality and only a few virtual elements overlaid. For example, a consumer could put on a headset and instantly see the room they were previously standing in. AR then allows products and items to be overlaid on top of their view. They could suddenly see a dress in their room that they were considering buying or a new lamp on their desk. By allowing consumers to see how certain items would fit into their everyday life, AR is able to provide better visualization than physical items in physical stores.
Swedish multinational, IKEA, has already launched an AR catalog app which allows you to see how certain items of furniture would look in your home. Consumers can virtually visualize how these pieces will look and, crucially, how they will fit in their home according to the product’s dimensions. Retail giants such as Converse and Lego have also started using AR technology to show users how certain products will look.
These forms of virtual visualization provide a new level of interaction for customers. Instead of merely reading the product description and dimensions in a bid to understand how it will physically look, they can press a button and see it for themselves.
3. It gives consumers a new reason to visit your store
It’s important to note that many consumers still prefer shopping in a physical store. According to the Walker Sands Future of Retail 2016 - a survey of 1400 US shoppers - many consumers stated that they preferred in-store experiences compared to buying their products online on eBay or Amazon. While the eCommerce market is showing no signs of slowing down, the trend has much more to do with convenience than it does with how customers ideally want their shopping experience to be. This presents eCommerce leaders with something of a problem. What they need to do is make the act of online shopping more like physically being inside a store.
VR online stores
Earlier this year, at the 50th CES (Consumer Electronics Show), traders learned how they may create a virtual version of their stores for the VR market. This could either be an exact replica of a store that they already have or a fictitious environment over which they would have complete control. Traders could design the space as they saw fit and continuously update it in line with customer trends and product preferences.
AR in physical stores
AR devices allow companies to launch additional content and extra information in their stores. As a result, they can offer new levels of in-store engagement and make the experience more appealing to consumers.
An example of this could layout as follows: A customer walks into any given store, picks up an AR headset and starts to wander around. As they look at items, description boxes pop-up to tell them more about what they are looking at. Now and then, a contest box may appear on their device screen asking them to enter an in-store promotional game. These features extend the shopping experience beyond more than simple reality; it is a heightened version of reality and an immersive experience.
BE READY TO HARNESS VR AND AR
The Holy Grail for marketers and eCommerce companies is attracting customers to their store. Whether in a physical or online sense, using both VR and AR technologies shows strong promise in helping to achieve this goal. These new devices allow shoppers to immerse themselves deeper into the commerce experience and they give customers a new attraction to visit both online and physical stores.
While elements of VR and AR technology can sound futuristic, the pace of the trends we have noted in this article suggests that they will soon be available to the wider consumer base. Both retailers and eCommerce companies need to ensure they are in a position to incorporate these technologies into their everyday customer service offerings.