Your camping trip is coming up. You and a friend go shopping for a tent. Spotting one you like, you both crawl inside to check the capacity. But there’s something unusual about this scenario: You’re in Boston. Your buddy is in Houston. And neither of you is anywhere near a sporting goods store.
Virtual reality (VR), along with its sister technology augmented reality (AR), offers retailers the opportunity to transform how people shop. One customer might try on shirts without having to travel to the store. Another might order furniture on the spot, confident that it’s right for the house. Applications using either technology stand to eliminate customer pain points, elevate customer service, and create a differentiated, personalized customer experience. The successful incorporation of VR and AR into retail models also has the potential to vastly change the way retailers are thinking about stores of the future.
Retailers looking to develop a virtual commerce strategy should consider breaking it down along the following dimensions.
First, decide which technology to use for each application. VR immerses the consumer in a simulated world. It requires stand-alone technologies such as headsets and, typically, a controller. By comparison, AR overlays virtual elements onto the real world as seen through a smartphone or tablet.
VR is more exciting, but right now it faces a higher barrier. That’s because consumers aren’t yet accustomed to wearing VR devices (even at home) or to doing anything with it beyond playing games. On the other hand, as Pokémon Go’s success signals, any smartphone can be a platform for AR.
Next, decide whether the application is for in-store or out-of-store use. This probably won’t be an issue in the long run, but today the two environments have different constraints.
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