Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences are being tipped as the next big thing for ecommerce. But what does VR have to offer that existing technology doesn’t? Is it really going to change the face of ecommerce as we know it? Let’s take a closer look and find out when we can expect to see this tech trend go mainstream.
Introducing a new reality
Retailers and marketing teams are constantly searching for new and exciting ways to engage online shoppers, and it’s fair to say that VR has grabbed the attention of some major ecommerce brands. In August, American homeware company Wayfair launched Patio Playground, a VR app that gives users access to Wayfair’s product catalogue via the Oculus Rift headset.
The app allows users to escape to a VR retreat and explore Wayfair’s products in spectacular surroundings. As far as customer experiences go, it’s the most immersive experience you can hope to have without actually being in a bricks-and-mortar store.
Creating immersive experiences
Wayfair’s app certainly offers customers a far more immersive experience than can be had by simply going online or flipping through a catalogue. Mike Festa, head of Wayfair’s Research and Development Lab, admits that the project is aimed more at increasing brand awareness, and isn’t designed to form part of the transactional experience.
“It is an immersive experience that can bring the sensation of being in a showroom to your home, and allows for easy customisation of everything on display,” Festa said. “For now, we want to use Patio Playground to test the virtual reality experience, look at how consumers are engaging with it, and integrate that feedback into our future applications.”
Although many are predicting the imminent rise of virtual commerce (v-commerce), Festa believes that it will be some time before VR becomes something consumers actively seek out and demand from retailers. “We are anticipating that consumers will not adopt virtual reality technology for a few years,” he said. “But when it does happen, we will be well positioned to take advantage of the new platform.”
Although commercially-available, fully-functioning v-commerce is unlikely to be available to all for a few more years, consumers are certainly expressing an interest in it. The Reinventing Retail 2015 report revealed that 35% of shoppers said that they would be likely to shop online more if they were able to try on a product virtually, and 63% of those surveyed believed that VR would definitely impact their shopping experiences in the future.
When will VR go mainstream? Watch and wait
There’s no doubt that the world is ready to embrace this innovative technology, but until the early adopters and pioneers can find ways of making v-commerce cost-effective and profitable, it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing a dramatic shift in the landscape of ecommerce for a couple of years. However, as a side note to all small business owners out there, it’s definitely worth keeping track of the latest developments in this field, because one thing’s for sure – once companies have cracked how to make VR work for retail, it will most likely become a huge part of the ecommerce experience.
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