Virtual reality (VR) has long been a term associated with video games and futurism. Thanks to swiftly developing VR and AR (augmented reality) technologies, however, retailers are now able to create custom, unique experiences for their customers. In fact, retail virtual reality is quickly becoming the go-to way to increase customers and enhance the overall customer experience.
Not sure how these technologies can impact your business? We’re sharing how real companies are making retail VR an integral part of their sales strategy!
Why Virtual Reality?
As retail stores struggle to find ways to attract new and existing customers to their stores, retail virtual reality and augmented reality offer tangible solutions. These tech experiences can help solve serious buying obstacles for customers, help consumers visualize purchases, and provide an exciting experience that encourages shoppers to tell their friends.
As online buying becomes the norm for more and more consumers, VR and AR offer retailers the chance to stay relevant. Often, these two technologies become a way for retailers to extend their reach from the brick and mortar store to the online world their customers inhabit.
What’s the Difference?
While similar, the two technologies differ notably. Virtual reality is immersive, and typically involves hardware (like a headset) that the store provides for the customer. These are almost always in-store experiences.
Augmented reality, however, uses technology to overlay sounds or images onto live video feeds. Snapchat, the social media giant, has done such a great job of introducing users to AR that most don’t even realize they’re using it.
Better In-Store Experiences
Retailers selling everything from tile to shoes to outdoor gear have found ways to incorporate retail VR into their store experiences.
Home Improvement Isn’t So Painful Anymore
Lowe’s, the home improvement and DIY giant, has combined virtual reality and augmented reality in a concept it calls the Holoroom. Home renovation customers slip on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset which allows them to “see” potential renovations in their own homes.
Lowe’s salespersons can personalize the virtual space with individual room sizes, equipment, colors, and finishings. Customers can select from literally thousands of Lowe’s products, swapping out choices even while in simulation mode. They can even view their design at home on YouTube 360 with a Google Cardboard viewer, which Lowe’s provides free of charge.
For Lowe’s, this retail virtual reality is a game changer. Before such technology, home renovators were forced to abstractly envision future renovations. All they had to help were paint swatches, Pinterest images, product shots, and paint chips.
Retail VR in stores now enables potential customers to overcome one of the largest hurdles they face in home improvement projects: how will this all look together? In the past, retailers like Lowe’s have sought to overcome this obstacle with sample show rooms. Thanks to VR and AR, however, the result is significantly more holistic and immersive. It also drastically increases the likelihood of shoppers using Lowe’s.
Bringing the Wilderness Indoors
Outdoor recreation provider North Face has also found a way to make retail VR work. In March 2015, the company debuted its first immersion vision experience: a VR video featuring rock climbing in Yosemite and the Moab Desert in Utah. The second video featured Nepal, and North Face partnered with Outside magazine to issue Google Cardboard to subscribers so they could view on their smartphones.
In 2016, North Face had equipped three retail locations with VR headsets, but partnering with Outside magazine to reach into people’s living rooms is a smart way to reach the customers who might not ever step foot into a North Face store.
Not only are the videos North Face created great ways to bring the wilderness indoors, but keeping the outdoors alive in customers’ minds through interactive technology encourages shoppers to associate North Face with their wilderness adventures. Further, North Face’s use of VR allows it to continue to stay relevant in the minds of millennial shoppers, who tend to do large amounts of their shopping online.
The Life-Changing Experience
If a company can help its consumers experience its benefits before even buying, that company might just have a customer for life. Retail virtual reality allows businesses to do just that.
Toms is an example of a retailer that has used VR to help its shoppers envision the difference they make. Customers who purchase a pair of Toms shoes are also purchasing a pair of shoes for an impoverished child in a third world country, and Toms has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in creating virtual reality videos that immerse the shopper in the giveback experience.
In over a hundred Toms stores, customers can use VR headsets to experience firsthand what it’s like to hand out shoes to children in Peru.
These types of VR experiences flow seamlessly between the consumer and the company’s mission and have a tremendous impact on the customer.
Lowe’s, North Face, and Toms are using virtual reality in flagship ways, but retailers can also find simpler ways to utilize this powerful technology. Augmented reality, in fact, can be used to help internet browsers visualize potential new furniture placement or help shoppers “try on” clothing from the comfort of their own homes. Smart mirrors and virtual makeup apps are quickly becoming the norm for tech-savvy retailers looking to increase their market share.
Using VR the Smart Way
In today’s quickly evolving world of technology, the smartest retailers are finding ways to make retail virtual reality a vital part of their success. Whether it’s shopping for a room refresh, envisioning new furniture, clothing, or makeup, or becoming immersed in a life-changing new experience, consumers are learning to expect technology as part of their buying experience.
Savvy retailers can learn from the examples of companies like Lowe’s, North Face, Toms, and others to find fresh new ways to use VR and AR to help consumers overcome buying objectives, resulting in satisfied customers and increased sales.
One drawback to current VR systems is the complexity of the many different user interfaces. This brings up an interesting aspect of virtual reality: For a system based on visual and auditory experiences, the entire process depends on the hands.
Originally, VR was simply a screen inside a pair of goggles. But the addition of hand controls was quickly added. This tactile element of hand and body tracking greatly increases the immersion factor of the VR experience. The two major products in the VR space (no pun intended) are the Oculus Touch and the HTC Vive.
Game and tech development company Value was an original pioneer with the Vive, and now they’re released a new product which VR developers and aficionados. Called the Knuckles, this new device is a wearable VR controller which tracks each finger on your hand. The device works with the existing SteamVR system. Still in development, prototype Knuckles controllers have recently been shipped to select VR developers.
The Knuckles is an interesting paradox. Although it looks more complicated than other VR controllers, the Knuckles is actually pretty simple to operate. Earlier VR controllers were basically controllers you hold in your hand. However, the Knuckles operates in a whole new way.
Instead of holding a controller, the Knuckles device simply straps into your hand. You don’t have to hold the device at all times. If you open your hand, the controller stays attached and tracks your finger movements.
The user isn’t constantly holding a physical object. This is actually the first controller where your actions in the virtual space correspond to actions in the physical space. Wrapping your hand around the controller lets you grab an object in virtual reality.
In what may not initially sound like a compliment, the Knuckles are easy to forget about. You’re not constantly gripping a controller. Instead, your hands are open and free. Plus, when you grab an object in the virtual space, your fingers will grab the device in the real world, too.
Generally speaking, when the VR equipment is natural to operate, the user is able to live inside the virtual space. You want the VR user to be organic instead of intuitive. For example, a dial you physically turn can be intuitive. But reaching out your real hand to grasp an object in virtual space is organic.
Knuckles opens the door to gesture movements. In social VR environments, gestures movements allow for fluid, natural actions such as gesturing, pointing, waving and more. The controller replicates your exact movement instead of snapping to a new position or approximating your gesture.
Gesture movement also allows for the ability to navigate dense data. For instance, hands and gestures can be used to develop an extensive language. Imagine creating and using virtual painting instruments of various sizes and colors.
Many developers believe the future of VR controllers will be a device which is easy to use by the general public. Think of devices like the Wiimote, Vive wands, game controllers and similar. With the introduction of Valve’s Knuckles, maybe the solution isn’t the type of device, but simply less of a device at all. With Knuckles, the future of virtual reality is literally in the hands of the user.
The Mobile World Congress in Shanghai recently wrapped up, and some of the biggest news was Samsung’s surprise reveal of the ExynosVR III, a standalone virtual reality headset. We’ve gathered up all the info on the new device and the likely impact on the VR industry.
The reveal of the device was unexpected, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. Samsung released the reference design which includes specs such as an ARM Makli G71 MP20 GPY and a M@ Dual 2.5 GHz CPU. Unconfirmed, but strongly suspected, is support for 4K resolution at 75fps and Wide Quad High Definition at 90fps.
This is an all-in-one, or standalone, headset. No other equipment, like an external PC or smartphone, is required. Instead, processing power is provided by Samsung’s brand new Exynos 9 chip.
Also noteworthy are what appears to be cameras on the front of the headset. These are likely used for inside-out position tracking. This new model is apparently a prototype for future Samsung products, which now seem likely to include some combination of eye-tracking, hand-tracking, voice recognition and possibly even recognition of facial expressions.
The Power of the Exynos 9 Chip
A standalone headset needs to be worn on the user’s head. So, it needs to be lightweight and comfortable, even if just worn for a short period of time. While some hard-core tech people will be willing to put up with head and neck pain in order to explore virtual worlds, mainstream success for VR headsets will depend a lot on the comfort of the device.
Standalone VR head-mounted displays are cutting edge but not entirely new. We’ve seen similar products from Qualcomm and Intel. This isn’t a huge surprise. Powering a VR headset is a great way to illustrate a chip’s power and light weight.
The ExynosVR device is at least somewhat designed as a showcase for the Exynos 9 chip. Lightweight and powerful, the chip would fit just fine inside a smartphone. But there are certain characteristics of the chip which are necessary for mobile VR. Basically, the types of features the chip needs to power a VR headset will also power a smartphone.
Samsung’s Larger Strategy for the Marketplace
Samsung likely has a larger strategy in mind beyond VR headsets. For starters, the Exynos processors are rarely seen outside of Samsung smartphones. The company has expressed a willingness to increase awareness of their processors by rebranding them along tiers. For instance, the Exynos 9 is the highest tier followed by the 7, 5 and 3.
As Samsung focuses on their chip brands, we’ll likely see more competition between the company and other chip makers such as Qualcomm and MediaTek.
There’s an interesting business relationship between Samsung and Qualcomm. Qualcomm’s failed Snapdragon 810 chip caused them to reach out to Samsung for help in future processor development. Perhaps Samsung’s success with Qualcomm encouraged them to develop chips of their own.
While the standalone VR headset is certainly an exciting development, it’s also only part of the story. Samsung’s increased promotion of their Exynos line is sure to influence the larger market. We’ll keep an eye on this developing story.
As virtual reality continues to grow in popularity, advertising is sure to be close behind. Google recently made a big announcement regarding their future plans for advertising. Their recent Google Developers Blog details the plans for mobile VR platforms.
The entire VR advertising project is being run by Area 120, which is Google’s workshop for experimental projects. One of the first ideas shared is a floating cube. Activated by either a tap or gaze, the cube is designed to seamlessly integrate into a virtual environment.
The cube format can use existing ad formats, which allows for a larger field of advertising opportunities. Companies don’t have to develop entirely new VR ads. Instead, they can use existing ads, including flat video. VR isn’t quite popular enough for many companies to develop VR-specific ads, so using existing ads is usually the most cost-effective solution.
Google’s plans for VR advertising are still being developed. Currently, developers can apply for early access to the VR Ads Plugin for Unity program. The ad format will be tested on Android, iOS, Daydream and Gear. The name implies the ad system will be similar to mobile ad platforms, with ads able to be easily plugged into existing VR content.
Advertisers are sure to love the flexibility VR ads offer. After all, they don’t have to spend time or money developing ads specifically for VR. Instead, their existing ads can be used in an all-new space.
The VR User Experience
While that’s all great for advertisers, what about consumers? VR users aren’t exactly thrilled that the VR experience is increasingly easier to advertise in. What advertising strategies are people likely to see develop within virtual reality?
Traditional methods might not be effective. Picture a free-to-play mobile app, like a game. Many apps are covered in ads. There might even be ads permanently displayed on the screen.
This is unlikely to work inside a virtual space. A virtual environment is incredibly immersive. The user is transported away to a fictional land. Ads will break that immersion. Plus, anything which disrupts the immersion is likely to annoy the user. The user’s feelings towards the brand will likely not be positive.
Google’s cube format is widely expected to be successful precisely because of its simplicity. The cube is unobtrusive but still visible. Versatility is another benefit. Unlike a banner, a cube can fit into smaller spaces. When dealing with a three-dimensional virtual environment, ad placement takes on a new layer of complexity.
So, where will these ads be placed? Some VR developers are already experimenting. The ideal placement seems to be away from the main action of the VR experience. Ad cubes seem to work best in pause menus, loading screens and similar.
The Future of VR Advertising
As new technologies emerge, advertising is sure to follow. Even though virtual reality is still not quite a mainstream technology, its popularity is poised to explode quickly. Google is already helping advertisers to prepare. While there will likely be some missteps along the way, hopefully both advertisers and consumers are able to successfully navigate the future of VR advertising.