Do Consumers Really Want Virtual Reality Shopping?
It seems incredible, but it wasn’t all that long ago that retailers were wrestling with the idea of online shopping. Is it really worth pouring huge resources into offering customers the ability to shop from home? Is that what they really want? These questions nowadays would raise a knowing smile. Of course that’s what we want!
Whilst e-commerce hasn’t killed the high street, by any means, it has fundamentally altered the way we consume. This is an accepted truth, there’s no point arguing with it. But could we be on the verge of the next big retail revolution? V-tail is coming, and with it, the same questions we were asking ten years ago.
Virtual reality, though it’s gaining rapid momentum and starting to really impact our lives, is still in its early days. Big steps are being made to integrate the technology into everything from entertainment to education, architecture to shopping.
Retailers seem to be taking most advantage of virtual reality experiential PR exercises to boost brand exposure. Nonetheless, the opportunity to integrate a virtual tour of a store with an ecommerce element, perhaps powered by artificial intelligence, is already here. Some brands are tinkering with it, but it’s yet to take off.
Augmented reality has started appearing in home furnishings, most famously with Ikea, whose app allows you to place an AR simulation of their product into your living room using your smartphone camera. We are seeing fashion brands experiment with augmented reality technology in so-called ‘smart mirrors’ that can let you try on garments without taking off a thread of what you’re wearing. The same smart mirrors can display further information about the garment, including suggesting other products you might be interested in, Amazon-style.
Over in China, the biggest retailer, Alibaba, has created an entire virtual reality mall, complete with e-commerce integration to allow shoppers to buy direct from the simulation. They’ve transported shoppers to Macy’s in New York and offered exclusive discounts to those who engage with their AR and VR apps. There have been events where buyers could view a live stream of fashion shows in VR and buy direct from the catwalk in real time.
This is just the beginning. If you can envisage your absolute ideal shopping trip, no holes barred, it can be made possible in VR. A trip to Tiffany’s, New York in 1950? You can have it! Sitting in a suite at The Ritz being presented with garments by your favourite brand by AIs that look like Ryan Gosling? You’ve got it!
Once brands get finished with testing the water and jump in at the deep end, things will never be the same again.
The answer, therefore, to the question of whether or not we want virtual shopping, is a foregone conclusion. At the moment, most of us don’t even realise it’s possible, or the extent of its transformative power. We’re still coming to terms with the idea of head-mounted displays. It may be that the v-tail revolution is something we don’t even realise we want until it’s presented to us.