VR, or Virtual Reality, has taken a long and winding road to get to the feature-rich consumer headsets of today (e.g. the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, the PlayStation VR). Over the decades, it’s been heralded as the wave of the future, written off as a worthless fad (at least, in its current incarnation), and most recently recognized for what it actually is: a flourishing technology that isn’t all that far off from making a major impact.
At the moment, there are three significant obstacles holding it back: the costs are still too high for the average consumer, the current hardware is still falling short of delivering life-changing experiences (for most), and progress is pending more widespread use of the technology.
But those obstacles aren’t going to be in the way forever – sooner or later, it’s going to reach a tipping point, and the most likely industry for it to revolutionize (aside from gaming) is eCommerce, the world of online retail.
In this article, I’m going to run you through 6 ways in which VR tech is going to overhaul and update the eCommerce experience for future generations, and you may be surprised to see how much of an effect it has already had. Let’s get underway.
1. Gamification elements will expand
Gamification is the process of adding game elements to a process, with the goal of making it more engaging and enjoyable and incentivizing the user to keep going. While gamification has been increasingly moving into the UX world (driven largely by intuitive mobile interfaces and the need of SaaS companies to keep customers happy), it has only really affected the eCommerce world through loyalty points and similar schemes.
Through the addition of VR tech to the shopping process, retailers will be able to add game elements as they see fit, making the basic act of looking at different products more entertaining and leaving the target consumers more likely to buy. Think about the prospect of allowing people to compete in a minigame to win the prize of a discount.
2. Personalization will deepen
Personalization drawing from the immense weight of data in the eCommerce world (made available initially through customer loyalty schemes and subsequently through online user accounts) has deepened massively in recent years. What retailers understand is that customers like to feel special and that their buying experiences are uniquely tailored to them.
The advantages of VR in eCommerce are quite remarkable because a VR environment can be completely customized however you choose. It goes beyond a basic choice of background color or a set of product recommendations based on a customer’s purchase history. Those elements will just be the beginning – each customer will be given the opportunity to shape their virtual shopping area however they like. Imagine a 3D reproduction of a brick-and-mortar store that can be rearranged at your leisure, arranging aisles to best suit how you prefer to buy.
3. Sales copy will become more complex
“Sales copy” is actually a misnomer here, because VR in eCommerce will render the classic product description very basic, suitable just for a floating note tagged to a 3D model. We’ll no doubt see a strong push towards narrative designs that better resemble TV and cinema spots than anything you’ve ever previously seen in a real store.
I’ll explain what I mean: the energy drink Red Bull is known for its slogan of “Red Bull gives you wings”, but that can be done literally in a VR store. Looking closely at a can of Red Bull could be set to trigger an animated event that causes the viewer to temporarily float above the store. It could even instigate an interactive brand story that would explain more about the product if the viewer chose to engage with it. In this way, big brands will be able to set themselves apart from rich media experiences.
4. The design process will change
VR is also going to be very consequential from a production standpoint, particularly in light of the current prevalence of affordable 3D printers and print on demand businesses for sale. Given a few years for software and hardware to mature a little, it may well be possible for a tech-minded entrepreneur to chart the entire sales process in the digital realm.
To begin with, they would design their products in a VR environment, being able to readily visualize things (and run physics tests for strength) without needing to build any physical prototypes. After that, they could use 3D printing or a cheap printing service to flesh out their inventory without needing to engage in any manual manufacturing. It is inevitable that hand-crafted items are going to become even rarer as time goes by.
5. The online and offline worlds will collaborate
One of the great things about VR tech is that it doesn’t need to pit the online and offline worlds against each other. Instead, digital technology and the internet can be used to extend and deepen the brick-and-mortar retail experience, particularly through AR (Augmented Reality) that uses VR to build upon real-world input.
Using the right setup, it would be possible to create a spectacular AR showroom that would provide all the tactile feedback of a traditional store with all the visual flourishes of a 3D environment that wouldn’t be practical (or even possible) to actually build. Instead of trying to get people to choose between buying in a store or online, retailers will treat them as complementary parts of the same process.
6. Experiential retail will become standard
Experiential retail is incredibly powerful for customer loyalty, and while it’s reserved for the brands with the biggest budgets at the moment, VR in eCommerce is eventually going to change that. It’s going to be similar to the way in which the growth of the internet soon made it possible for a tiny business to have a better-looking website than a huge conglomerate. The options won’t be limited by funding but by will, creativity, and ingenuity.
The next decade or so stands to be a really exciting time for consumers because of this, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens.