Potential for online shopping
Whether in gaming, entertainment, or marketing, virtual reality has been finding its way into a wide range of areas in the digital world and in real life since 2016. Given the growing popularity of the medium, more and more companies are now wondering what kind of role virtual
reality technology will play in the near future for online business in general and e-commerce in particular. Many companies currently like to use virtual reality as a marketing instrument. The use of VR devices at trade fairs is a good way of allowing visitors to get a closer look of the exhibitor’s product.
VR’s presence in the area of e-commerce is still somewhat weak in comparison. This is partly due to the fact that many areas (technology, books, white goods) are less suited to the new technology, although perhaps the inspirational idea for presenting items of this kind simply hasn’t yet been found. Much more interesting and promising is the use of virtual reality components for products and services associated with entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, or travel. It is certainly going to be fascinating to find out whether VR is just a phase that will soon pass or whether the technology will forever change the shopping behavior of consumers.
Virtual Reality brings reality to online shopping
There are many indications that the latter will be the case. That’s because the online sale of goods will resemble the experience in real stores even further with the aid of the virtual technology. The technology has already arrived here. Microsoft’s HoloLens has been used for virtual
reality shopping in the Hamburg store of electrical retail chain Saturn since the beginning of December. Microsoft has opened its biggest retail space to date here. It is a place where goods can be brought to life with the aid of the HoloLens. As customers make their way around the store, they are shown images, videos, and additional information relating to accessories or special features available for the Xbox gaming consoles and other systems on display.
Things are also heading in this direction when it comes to buying furniture. For instance, the US home improvement chain Lowe’s offers its visitors an interactive shopping experience with the HoloLens augmented reality headset by allowing them to produce a virtual design of their very own dream kitchen in-store.
Virtual reality provides the opportunity to at least partly make up for one drawback of e-commerce compared to shopping in a real store: the distance that exists between the online customer and the product. It can reduce this distance and offer the consumer a realistic shopping experience. This is also why some of the major online retailers are experimenting with the technology or already using it.
The potential customer appreciates efforts of this kind. According to a survey conducted by Ipsos, more than fifty percent of Germans are interested in virtual reality shopping solutions.
Brands like The North Face are taking initial steps by sending their customers on a virtual journey with VR image films. Yet this doesn’t go far enough, because in the area of fashion in particular many customers feel the desire to try on the goods or at least have the opportunity to get a detailed look at them. This is not that easy with product photos alone, however detailed they may be. Virtual reality can help here. There are already virtual fitting rooms that allow users to test products better online. Companies such as Otto, Zalando, and adidas are already experimenting with a system that allows customers to try on clothes with the help of VR and then get a 360-degree view of them. In an ideal world, items that have been subjected to such careful inspection would be immediately purchased so that all the retailer had to do was retrieve them from the automated warehouse and send them to the customer.
Online use in virtual shops
Retailers experimenting with the idea of virtual stores are going one step further. Users navigate their way around the online shop with VR glasses in the same way as they would walk around a normal store. Compared to conventional online shops, this approach offers many more opportunities for cross- and upselling, because the goods can be presented next to one another in a way that is by far clearer and more vivid. The sorting is done by algorithms, which use the customer journey and previous purchases to forecast the customer’s requirements and display products with the greatest chance of being sold next to one another.
The industry leader has also identified the potential of VR in the area of e-commerce, because according to a number of similar rumors, Amazon is planning to set up a virtual reality platform.
eBay using VR in Australia
Competitor eBay is already ahead of the game here. In Australia, the online company has opened a virtual warehouse in conjunction with the department store chain Myer, in which users can view and purchase a wide range of products. Unlike the expensive HoloLens solution, users just need a VR headset for their smartphone, allowing them to immerse themselves in the virtual experience and immediately purchase goods. Various options are available here: either a “real VR headset” – such as the Samsung Gear VR – or simpler solutions like Google Cardboard and others.
Thanks to integrated “Sight Search” technology, eBay customers can inspect and select products and place them directly in their shopping cart by simply staring at them. The shop has more than 12,500 items. The 100 biggest selling products in each category are even displayed in 3D. Various personalization features are designed to ensure that the personal tastes of each customer are catered for, making it possible to individually adapt the product range for each virtual visit. This service is currently only available in Australia.
A combination of VR and interaction in the online shop
From mid-2017, the Japanese online retailer Kabuki is set to add a virtual reality area to its shop, which will also include a voice chat feature. With the help of an app, users can shop while wearing the VR headset and share the experience with friends using the chat function. Just like in an actual store, this gives the customers the opportunity to advise each other before making a purchase and add any number of additional items to the selection. This social interaction feature should ultimately make it easier for customers to choose a particular product.
The sportswear retailer Moosejaw wants to use its VR app to promote interaction by allowing customers to experience outdoor activities, clamber around a national park, or explore trails. Along the way, there are a number of products to discover or quiz questions to answer, with the chance to win prizes. The company hopes to use the communication campaign to step up its customer relations. It goes without saying that the products can also be purchased directly in the app.
Car Sales 5.0
Why should I still visit a car dealership when I can get a realistic view of every model in all conceivable colors and specifications at home wearing VR glasses and then configure my preferred model? Volvo is already heading in this direction with an app that customers can use to embark on a virtual tour of discovery. The American start-up Vroom is heading in the same direction and will in future sell used cars via virtual showrooms, providing a three-dimensional view of all vehicles and the option to take a virtual test drive. Instead of trekking around nonstop to view various cars, the potential buyer can test-drive up to five different cars within ten minutes from the comfort of their own home.
The use of virtual reality can be very profitable for online retailers. It’s not just since the release of Microsoft’s HoloLens that the technology has been of ever greater interest to the e-commerce sector. In view of the high purchase price of over 5,000 euros, however, demand for this product is likely to be limited. Yet with the spread of more inexpensive solutions, there is every chance that their use will quickly increase.
The technology naturally has to make sense in relation to the products on offer (such as those from the fashion or lifestyle segment). It should also be possible to reach the intended target group via this channel. If both of these requirements have been met, however, then VR will transform online shopping into a completely new experience for users. In return, online retailers will be able to increase their conversion rate, because the realistic experience will minimize one of the main reasons why purchases have previously been aborted (and goods later returned).