Virtual reality shopping, or V-commerce, seems to rumbling ever closer on the horizon as more and more retail brands dip their toes tentatively into the waters.
Among those brands that are known to be in the early stages of planning VR strategies are The Gap and Sephora.
But what do consumers actually want from V-commerce? Do they want the technology to make the experience of shopping more exciting or engaging, or do they want it to help them make better choices and make the process more efficient?
Consulting firm L.E.K has surveyed 1,000 early VR adopters to try and find the answer. There seems to be two distinct models emerging. The first is VR related, where consumers use headsets to view and interact with product representations.
The second involves the use of AR, and allows consumers to gain extra retail information using their smartphone cameras.
“V-commerce brings the potential for entirely new shopping experiences and new kinds of added value,” says Dan McKone, managing director at L.E.K. “But there are risks for retailers — the initial investment is significant, and there are high costs for getting it wrong. Retailers need to do what they’ve always done — look to their consumers to point the way.”
“These technologies are a new way for retailers to do what customers want them to — create compelling shopping experiences and have rich communications with them.”
What do early adopters want from V-commerce?
The survey was made up of people who had already experienced VR and AR, so had already experienced the ‘novelty’ aspect of the technology.
What they wanted from brands that go virtual is:
- 80% want to be able to use VR/AR to design rooms or browse virtual showrooms – Alibaba’s Buy+ app allows consumers to browse the aisles of a virtual store
- 70% want to be able to ‘try on’ clothes and accessories and customise them
- 70% are strongly interested in being able to use VR headsets to virtually shop in stores with friends that aren’t physically present or with AI-powered virtual shoppers
Unifying physical and digital
L.E.K has issued some pointers to those brands that are looking to incorporate VR/AR into their retail experiences.
Aside from moving quickly to try and avoid the rush, the company suggests that brands should understand exactly how the technology can add value. Customers should understand right away the particular pain points the technology is aiming to solve.
“It can create new, special experiences that would otherwise not be possible, and that leads to greater consumer engagement. It enables retailers to unify physical and digital channels — brick-and-mortar retailers can bring digital capabilities into the store experience, and online-only retailers can create virtual ‘stores’,” L.E.K managing director Maria Steingoltz said.
“And the rich experience can generate more sales — a customer can ‘see’ a sofa in his or her own living room, and then be shown the cushions, lamps and side tables that go with it.”