Time and again, emerging technologies have helped redefine the shopping experience. Soon after desktop computers introduced the idea of online shopping, smartphones, and tablets ushered in an era of mobile commerce (m-commerce) that has since captivated consumers. In 2015, m-commerce accounted for roughly one-third of all online sales.
But while retailers look to take advantage of this growing trend, yet another innovative piece of technology sits on the horizon, promising to change shopping as we know it. From entering virtual storefronts to scanning digital grocery aisles, virtual reality commerce (VR-commerce) is expected to bring enhanced convenience and unique interactions to the shopping experience.
While VR-commerce is still in its infancy stage, that hasn’t stopped consumers from dreaming of the possibilities, with many believing virtual reality will soon have an impact on their shopping experience. For retailers, this emerging technology may not only foster a new channel for consumer engagement, but many argue there’s an overwhelming potential for VR-commerce to boost sales.
Enhanced Consumer Engagement
Curiosity surrounding VR-commerce is at an all-time high—and for good reason. The technology behind it is unlike anything ever seen before. As such, retailers that offer consumers the opportunity to experience virtual reality may open the door for increased engagement that raises awareness of a brand’s reputation and story.
TOMS is among the first to make virtual reality part of its in-store shopping experience. Last year, the shoe company introduced Samsung VR headsets in its flagship stores as a means of showcasing its mission of donating a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Shoppers who put on the headsets are instantly taken on a virtual trip to Peru, where they can see the positive impact each donated pair of shoes has on poverty-stricken communities throughout the country.
Considering that eight out of 10 millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, a virtual experience like the one created by TOMS can go a long way toward helping retailers boost engagement with potential customers and improve brand awareness.
When it comes to brick-and-mortar stores, retailers have spent years studying how consumers move throughout a store and make purchase decisions. From shelf placement to the location of displays, recreating such intricacies in an online store can prove difficult. But with VR-commerce that soon may change. Upselling a specific product can be as simple as placing it in a more favorable position.
Since virtual reality allows consumers to move beyond the physical constraints of a brick-and-mortar store, giving them the opportunity to see or experience a product will no longer serve as a hurdle to potential sales. This is especially important for high-consideration products such as home appliances.
VR-commerce also opens the door for helpful product tutorials that can give shoppers greater insights into how a product might match their unique needs. Beauty magazine InStyle, for example, has already created its first virtual cover. In addition to behind the scenes footage, the cover also featured makeup tutorials that give shoppers a glimpse at each product in action.
While some retailers have dabbled with virtual reality, its potential to engage consumers and drive sales remains largely untapped. In the same way that e-commerce and m-commerce redefined what it means to shop, time will tell how VR-commerce shapes an ever-changing shopping experience.
Photo courtesy of Samsung
Joe Kleinwaechter is VP of Innovation & Design at Worldpay.