As a technology, virtual reality is nothing short of revolutionary. With its ability to deliver deep, immersive and compelling experiences in the comfort of your own home, it will give artists, storytellers and marketers the ability to transport viewers into entirely new worlds.
At the moment, the high price points of most commercially available VR headsets have limited the technology’s reach to about 5% of North Americans. But that number is growing rapidly, aided by the development of more affordable alternatives like Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. According to IDC, the global market for VR headsets grew 25.5% year over year in 2017, with shipments reaching 2.1 million.
More importantly, augmented reality – the use of digital devices to supplement physical spaces with virtual features – is already here, and can be experienced by anyone with a smart mobile device. As early as 2015, revenue from AR applications was $2.2 billion, and that number has only grown with the success of AR games like Pokemon Go.
Given the increasing mainstream acceptance of VR and AR technology, savvy ecommerce companies are already experimenting with various ways to integrate them into their digital offerings. In this article, we’ll take a sneak peek at three ways VR and AR technology will transform the online shopping experience in the years to come.
One of the biggest obstacles in ecommerce is the inability for customers to touch, feel and try out products before they make a purchase. This results in a “trust gap”, where online customers are reluctant to pull the trigger on a purchase because they can’t feel whether the product is right for them. For instance, you might get a comprehensive breakdown on the size, color and material of a dress, but there’s no way to know if it will actually fit well. It’s for this reason that customers are 58% likelier to purchase a product if they’ve had a chance to test it first.
AR can help to overcome this trust gap by giving customers the ability to “try before you buy”. A great case study of this is fashion brand Banana Flame’s AR fitting room app, which allows customers to see how various clothing items will look on them.
The app uses the customer’s webcam as an “electronic mirror” that superimposes clothes directly on their body. The customer can then use on-screen controls to adjust the clothing’s position, color and size, and even take photos of themselves to share on Facebook and Twitter. Within a year of launching this app, Banana Flame saw a 182% increase in total unique conversions.
Product discovery is another area where Virtual Reality will make a huge impact. Currently, the ecommerce discovery process is not as effective as it could be, even if your website already has a great recommendation system. This is because the trust gap is even larger for products that customers are seeing and considering for the first time, so most of them will simply pass on a completely new recommendation.
VR can be used in innovative ways to improve the discovery process, as showcased by Australian retailer Myer. The company partnered with eBay to launch the world’s first VR department store, and gave away 20,000 “Shoptical” Cardboard headsets to mark the occasion.
Myer’s virtual store personalizes the discovery process at every step of the way. From the moment they enter the store, customers see a unique collection of products that are most likely to appeal to them. Every time they add an item to their cart, the store shows them a number of related products, while updating their personal information to further tailor future shopping experiences.
Most importantly, VR technology allows customers to see the product right in front of them in full 3D, and they are able to move, rotate and zoom the product however they like. This makes the product feel a lot more “real”, and helps to overcome the trust gap faced by any unfamiliar product.
As this example illustrates, companies that implement VR effectively will be able to deliver a much more personalized experience, increasing both conversion rates and average order value at the same time.
Good marketers know that storytelling is a powerful way to engage customers at a deep emotional level. And VR is an extremely effective storytelling medium, that excels at delivering immersive and memorable experiences. VR can allow customers to experience your brand narrative in the first person, leaving a truly lasting impression.
Patron Tequila used VR to great effect in their “Art of Patron” feature:
The virtual experience took a whole six months to produce, and treated viewers to a journey through the process of crafting a bottle of Patron, from agave field to cocktail party. It was promoted heavily by the company at live events, retail outlets and on their website. Thanks to the novel and sticky nature of the experience, it was shared widely on social media, and the Youtube video alone garnered over 20,000 views.
Live events can be a great way to build your brand community. However, they are also expensive and logistically challenging to organize, and not all your customers will have the ability to attend them, whether due to cost, time or location.
VR solves all these issues. Not only is hosting a virtual event a lot cheaper and easier, it also makes it possible for every single attendee to have a front row seat, right in their own living room. It’s also possible to choreograph every single element of the experience much more tightly, as you have full control over the audience’s viewpoint.
At the same time, VR can also be used to further enhance a high-end event. Dior went with this approach, allowing audiences to experience their fashion shows outside of the runway. Viewers were given access to various backstage locations, and were able to watch models, makeup artists and other event staff prepare for the show. As a result, audiences were able to enjoy a much more inclusive experience, without even having to physically attend the event.
Unlike other incremental technological changes, VR and AR technology has the potential to fundamentally change the way customers interact with ecommerce brands. We could well be witnessing the birth of an entirely new medium – and experimenting with it now will give companies a significant edge in the brave new world of our virtual future.