Just over a decade ago, when Warby Parker launched to become the world’s number one online eyewear retailer, few would have guessed the company would later open more than a hundred brick-and-mortar stores across North America.
For many, it was an unexpected twist in the evolution of internet commerce. After all, those young Warby Parker customers weren’t merely enamored by Warby’s styles and low cost pricing, they loved the convenience of a post-millennium interactive shopping experience designed with them in mind.
It may also come as a surprise to many that online juggernaut Amazon has some 600 retail locations, including 500 Whole Foods stores, and the remaining a combination of pop up, convenience stores, bookstores, grocery and general merchandise stores.
Some argue that physical retail stores help generate brand awareness and reinforce brand loyalty. Others claim in-store traffic delivers more meaningful insights about shopper behavior, while others merely define clicks-and-bricks as an inevitable transition to omnichannel shopping.
The simplest argument may be to say that “clicks” wouldn’t include “bricks”, unless shoppers wanted them to. That for all the conveniences of online shopping, we humans can’t resist the social and entertainment value of a “good old in-person shopping experience.” XR enables us to create these experiences right from the comfort of our home.
XR Experience for Metro Ford's F-150 XL STX
Interactive Shopping Experience - The New Normal
Of course the Coronavirus pandemic quickly put the kibosh on in-person retail shopping and saw e-commerce sales surge nearly 30%, a phenomena likely to become part of our everyday lives long after the pandemic.
But as retail store visits continue to decline, we’re beginning to see huge pent up demand for the next best thing to being there. That’s right, somewhere between those bricks-and-clicks is a unique dimension we call virtual reality.
While not exactly new, XR, or extended reality, which includes virtual, augmented and mixed reality, has recently burst into the mainstream thanks to advances in technology, lower costs and faster internet connectivity, bringing new life to today’s interactive shopping experience. In effect, virtual reality shopping, or VR shopping brings to the experience practicality, excitement, and most importantly – engagement - which is good for both the shopper and the shopkeeper.
VR for Automobile Shopping
Let’s consider, by way of example, today’s automobile shopping process…
Here again, with current visits to car dealerships in serious decline due to the pandemic, dealers are concerned about losing valuable prospects. But the decline in visits doesn’t necessarily mean a decline in interest.
In fact, demand for information about cars continues to soar among today’s increasingly internet-savvy car shoppers, as does their desire to visit dealerships to test drive cars, creating a perfect storm for offering up the next best thing to being there.
The vr shopping solution enables the shopper to engage in highly immersive experiences, from virtual “walk arounds,” to “opening the hood” or “sitting inside” a vehicle from the comfort of his or her own living room.
The kinesthetically-driven nature of the vr shopping experience, coupled with a shopper’s ability to navigate the virtual environment as he or she sees fit renders the experience so engaging that the shopper invariably remains online longer, revealing deeper insights about his or her particular interests. During the experience, the shopper can pull up onscreen vehicle information on demand, obtain it from a virtual assistant or a salesperson over a live video chat.
Best of all, today’s VR technology is cross platform, allowing these experiences to be consumed from a PC, a tablet, mobile phone or a HoloLens. For most, virtual reality remains a fanciful idea relegated to science fiction. Yet, virtual, augmented and mixed reality applications are rapidly being applied in daily life, bringing immersion, collaboration, and education, live at home, at the office or on-site for clients.
In light of their current adoption rates, we can expect to see these applications permeate and ultimately blend interactive media channels with physical environments, creating altogether new, yet-to-be defined realities, from the next best thing to being there, to being where nobody has ever been before.