Toms, famed purveyor of shoes and donations, recently added virtual reality capabilities to five of its stores, where shoppers can put on a VR headset and take a virtual trip to Peru. Toms founder Blake Mycoskie thinks VR gives the company a competitive advantage, and, as he told USA Today, he likes being at the forefront of using the technology in retail environments. (Toms is, it seems, the first to do so.)
VR, a technology commonly used in game systems, is getting a lot of attention as a technology that could soon become common in many brick and mortar (B&M) stores as retailers try to reinvigorate the shopping experience. Although using VR for B&M retail and e-commerce has been on the horizon for a while, the technology is now at the point where large-scale deployment is more of a possibility.
Or make that large-ish scale. VR headsets still cost a few hundred dollars, and outfitting stores with headsets will not be an inexpensive solution to what is basically a marketing exercise.
However, some say VR in retail will become common within the next three years, and with the release of consumer headsets in 2016, that’s a real possibility.
The end of brick & mortar, or its resurgence?
SapientNitro and The Line debuted a virtual store to much buzz at the Cannes Lions marketing conference in June, allowing attendees in the South of France to wander through The Line’s furnishing store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.
At the moment, one of the biggest challenges for VR as an e-commerce solution is that it depends on consumers buying their own headsets and the accompanying technology. Some early adopter types are already on the wait lists. For everyone else, it might take a while. Oculus Rifts will hit the market at the beginning of 2016, and they won’t be inexpensive. Of course, there’s Google Cardboard, a more low-tech (contextually) — and definitely more affordable — device.
There’s also the issue of VR simulator sickness, the feelings — and not, unfortunately, virtual — of nausea, loss of balance, and eyestrain that can affect some people while engaged in VR activities.
But as consumer headsets become more affordable and VR tech improves, some are betting that VR will be used to enhance the at-home e-commerce experience.
Tech company Sixense demonstrated its version of VR shopping, vRetail, at the last CES, and reportedly retailers signed up on the spot. But the tech is really in its infancy — it’s not a particularly sophisticated visual at the moment, and there are issues still to be worked out.
In London, Audi used Samsung’s VR tech to create a car showroom experience. Customers can experience a car’s features and take it on a (virtual — is that as fun?) test drive. Are consumers going to settle for a VR-only test before they buy a car? I’d wager no, but it sure sounds like a good way to try out the many options cars, and particularly luxury cars, come with these days.
It’s likely that retail VR, at least initially, will be used by consumers to plan what they’re going to buy in an actual store.
But for VR to really catch on in any environment, it will have to bring something unique to consumers and be a real game-changer.
For more on how VR’s implications, see How Will Businesses Change With Virtual Reality?