VR, Immersive Technologies, and the Future of Online Retail
Doorbuster sales. Black Friday deals. Cyber Monday promotions. Each year during the holiday season, retailers roll out the red carpet for consumers. In the great battle for shoppers’ attention (and dollars), smart retailers are always looking for ways to improve their sales experiences – especially online – through use of the latest technology.
As we turn the corner into 2018 there’s one particular technology that’s poised to change the way consumers shop: virtual reality (VR) and 360° immersive media.
VR—More than Hype
Yes, this has been said before, and yes, skeptics have argued that VR has seen slow adoption. While that may be true in the entertainment space, immersive technologies have been quietly gaining ground everywhere else - especially when a more purposeful outcome is a goal of the experience.
The analyst firm IDC recently reported that 2.1 million AR and virtual reality headsets shipped in the second quarter of 2017. Those numbers represent a 25.5 percent increase over sales from the same period in 2016. This bump in sales is likely the result of some consumer adoption, but also a large and growing number of corporate uses. Cisco, HP and Microsoft are among a coterie of large multinationals who've included VR and 360° content in their programs to solve business problems and to stay competitive.
The continued growth of VR will evolve the way consumers shop. VR and 360° experiences possess a remarkable ability to keep consumers engaged for longer periods of time while moving shoppers through the sales funnel. Not only do they dramatically increase time-of-engagement with online content – from about 4 minutes to close to 10 – but they offer a whole new experience for an online retail world that’s badly in need of an upgrade.
Even though VR headsets aren’t in every home (yet) these benefits can be seen right now in mobile, 360° immersive content for desktop, and in AR applications.
VR is about to Change Online Retail
Shopping with immersive technology will fundamentally shift ecommerce from a catalog-like experience to a showroom experience. Current e-commerce still resembles catalog shopping, but with VR, retailers will be able to invite consumers into an experience that feels just like shopping in a showroom. Not only an advantage for retailers, it’s becoming critical as Smart products become part of the average home.
Think of the products we buy online now, and where consumers purchased them twenty years ago. As consumers grow more interested in home technology, VR and 360° content is stepping up to help make that transition faster and more effective. Virtual reality took a big leap into e-commerce in September when Swarovski and Mastercard announced in-VR purchase capabilities for the Atelier Swarovski home collection. With the purchase barrier finally down, the time is right for retailers to step into the future.
Apple Changed Tech. Online Retail Hasn’t Kept Up
Some tech fans consider August 15, 1998 as something of a holy day. That’s when Apple launched the iMac G3, the iconic desktop computer, in a colorful, translucent “Bondi Blue” casing. Not only did this represent Steve Jobs’ triumphant return to the company he’d founded, it started a tectonic shift in the way that consumers thought about technology for the home – tech is not meant only for the home office but also to be displayed in the living room.
When Jobs introduced us to his iMac, ecommerce was in its infancy. The SSL encryption certificate itself (remember Netscape?) was only four years old. In some ways, Apple benefited from the fact that consumers needed to check out its new computer in person. Would they have purchased something so radical from a “failing” company without knowing exactly what it would look like in their homes?
Online Retail: Quick to Rise, Slow to Improve
Online retail has not improved much as an experience since its inception. Recommendation engines and delivery methods have made great strides, but the user experience still only offers some reading and photos, then requires clicking a “buy” button. Little has changed to give consumers a more accurate feel for how these products will actually look in their homes. Online retail is still very much a leap of faith.
Largely because of the limited experience, consumers today are often still reluctant to purchase at first. While sales revenue from consumer electronics e-commerce amounted to $57.5 billion in 2016 (according to the research site Statista), there’s still a 69.23 percent average shopping cart abandonment rate across ecommerce sites. That’s a lot of lost or delayed revenue.
Just like Jobs’s iMac, home automation products are changing the way that consumers think about their tech. Products that control homes must be front-and-center, so they’re designed to be shiny, glossy, and visually appealing. In order to instill confidence in consumers and encourage them to buy, retailers need to invest in new ways to sell them online. VR and immersive technologies offer solutions.
The Future of Online Retail
As more companies embrace VR as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, it’s critical for suppliers and distributors to explore VR and 360° as a way to improve the online sales experience. With consumers growing more interested in home technology, VR and 360° content can step up to help make that transition faster and more effective, offering a more lifelike online sales experience.
Holiday incentives will always have their place, and with in-VR purchasing now a reality, there’s nothing to stop retailers on making the most of their offers by capitalizing on the incredible potential of immersive technologies.
Gordon Meyer is the Director of Marketing for YouVisit, the global leader in creating interactive virtual reality experiences for various industries. As a digital marketing industry veteran, Meyer was one of the first 30 employees at Razorfish, executing digital strategy for Fortune 100 clients like Schwab and Ford Motorcars. Gordon then joined Sirius Satellite Radio in 2005, which during his tenure overtook and merged with competitor XM Radio, experiencing staggering subscriber growth from 800k subscribers to over 26M active subscriptions. In 2015, Meyer was named one of Brand Innovators’ “40 Under 40 Brand Marketers.”