Consumers love buying things online. It’s fast, convenient and doesn’t require stepping out the front door. But how would that shirt look on you in real life? Does the color make your eyes pop? Does it fit right?
That’s where physical stores find their strength over online shopping.
Consumers still favor brick-and-mortar retailers for most things, particularly consumed packaged goods, clothing and apparel, and household goods, according to a report by Walker Sands Communications, a public relations and digital marketing agency that surveyed more than 1,400 U.S. consumers. A majority of consumers (55 percent) however, said virtual reality (VR) would impact their buying decisions in major ways.
“If done correctly, virtual reality has the opportunity to be an effective e-commerce driver … and it could be a good way to bridge the gap between in store and online,” according to Walker Sands.
Alibaba, Netflix and Tommy Hilfiger Get Into the VR Game
Companies are well-aware of the growth potential that VR has in the retail world. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba — which is now the largest retailer in the world — recently launched its own VR research lab called GnomeMagic Lab. It “will work with its shopping businesses with a view to integrating VR into the shopping experience while exploring other applications,” according to TechCrunch.
Amazon is also creating its own VR platform, according to The Verge, which said it would include features “that could operate like its competitors’ platforms” like Netflix, which has its own VR app for Samsung’s Gear VR.
Tech companies aren’t the only ones in the know. Fashion retailers and home improvement brands are getting into the VR and augmented reality space too.
About 63 percent of consumers in Walker Sands’ retail report said they’re interested in VR-integrated fitting rooms that would “allow them to virtually try on items while in store” — an “indication that consumers want their online and in-store shopping experiences to merge.”
“As the lines between the two retail worlds get blurrier, VR could bring them together in a seamless and integrated way,” Walker Sands said.
Renowned fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger last October partnered with WeMakeVR to create a unique shopping experience — bringing fashion shows and catwalk events to customers in the designer’s New York flagship store.
“After viewing, store employees could help them to their favorite items, and within minutes customers could fit the clothes they just saw during the show,” WeMakeVR said.
Marketing agency SapientNitro and VR developers Sixense last year “created a demonstration where a consumer could virtually browse shoes from a display, ‘pick up’ a product with their hands, try them on an avatar with an outfit, and purchase,” according to Sapient, which operates SapientNitro.
“In a case of bringing the in-store experience online, virtual reality e-commerce — or v-commerce — seems to be entering the early-adoption phase and could represent the next big integration area for the in-store and online shopping experiences,” Walker Sands said in its report.
Other brands that have embraced the technology are taking a somewhat different approach, including The North Face, with its so-called “The North Face VR”; and Toms Shoes, using Samsung Gear VR headsets in a partnership with VR production company Vrse.
See Your Remodeled Kitchen Before You Buy
Home-improvement retailers are getting in on the VR game, too. Lowe’s this year launched Holoroom, and Ikea created a pilot VR app called Ikea VR Experience, using HTC Vive headsets. Both developments allow consumers to “step into” augmented homes, particularly kitchens and bathrooms.
“Virtual reality is developing quickly and in five to 10 years it will be an integrated part of people’s lives. We see that virtual reality will play a major role in the future of our customers. For instance, someday, it could be used to enable customers to try out a variety of home furnishing solutions before buying them,” Jesper Brodin, managing director at Ikea of Sweden and Range & Supply Manager at Ikea Group, said in a statement.
In Ikea’s app, consumers are able to “explore” customizable kitchen settings. Customers have the ability to explore the kitchens through different perspectives — for example, the height of a child.
“This could be useful for the user, since walking around the room in someone else’s shoes enables you to discover hidden dangers or possible design solutions,” according to Ikea.
Although retailers are getting more aggressive when it comes to VR, there are barriers. Current devices are clunky and large — like oversized goggles. Becoming consumer friendly might take some downsizing.
“I’m not sure we’re all going to wear these big goggles like gamers but once you get these technologies onto glasses or contact lenses [it will go mainstream],” Andy Wolfe, chief information officer at United Kingdom-based retailer Shop Direct, told the website Computing.
Then there’s the issue of cost. The necessary gear makes virtual reality “unattainable for consumers according to the Los Angeles Times, which spoke with Forrester Research retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. Consumers can expect to spend thousands on VR headsets as well as compatible computer systems.
How much are we talking? Well, the least you can expect to pay for a pre-made VR-ready desktop PC is about $999, but that gets you only the bare minimum. So think of that $999 as the starting line, not the finish, according to CNET which has more on the real cost of virtual reality.
“Unless VR devices come down in price and are widely accessible, the truth is you can probably get a good enough way of simulating something just with photography,” Mulpuru told the LA Times.
Affordable options are reality right now, however, including Google’s $15 Google Cardboard, which has already been shipped to more than 5 million people, according to the company, so the idea of getting VR gadgets in the hands of more consumers may not be that far off.