Virtual Reality is Changing the Way We Shop

When Cyber Monday made its debut in 2005, we knew e-commerce had officially taken hold of the retail industry. The introduction of online shopping is probably the biggest change retail had seen since the advent of print and TV advertising. But fast forward just 12 years, and retail is already set to evolve once again—this time with v-commerce, a trend that could change both online and brick-and-mortar shopping in profound ways.

In fact, virtual reality would seem to be the next big disruption in the world of retail. Businesses from clothing to real estate are tapping into virtual reality to reach consumers like never before. Imagine being able to shop for a house or try on clothes without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch. What seems like fantasy is quickly becoming reality—a reality worth billions in increased sales and branding.

The potential for VR in commerce is nearly endless, with opportunities for increased marketing, branding, geographical reach, and data acquisition. But there are also some roadblocks to overcome. The following are just a few things to keep in mind as businesses everywhere consider a new v-commerce presence.

Taking Online Shopping to the Next Level

People have already become fairly comfortable with online shopping. For those who haven’t, VR could solve the problem, as it allows them to sense and see the item they are considering purchasing, while also adding a touch of excitement, novelty, and fun to the buying process. With VR, consumers can try on the dress, gloves, backpack, or shoes before clicking “buy now.” They can even smell the lotion … hear the audio … or test drive the car. With VR, you no longer need to rely on customer reviews—you have the chance to review the product yourself before buying. That kind of peace of mind could be worth millions to companies able to capitalize on the technology.

Demand Continuing to Grow

Nearly half of shoppers between the ages 18-24 say they find using VR to shop appealing. What’s more, an Ericcson ConsumerLab study showed shopping was the top reason that smartphone users gave for being interested in VR. Move over, gaming industry—a bigger, more profitable force is brewing. Stores like Dior, Topshop, and Balenciaga have already embraced VR to provide unique in-store experiences, such as attending a runway show. As Millennials and Generation Z continue to age into the consumer market, the demand for VR will only grow, and retail stores will likely continue to find even more novel ways to use it.

Empowering Retail Outlets

VR can also empower retail stores by providing important data. Just as consumers use goggles to scan their virtual environments, the goggles can track things like eye movement to see which items catch their eyes, and which display ads work most effectively. The goggles could even suggest purchase automatically, based on wearer preferences. That translates into valuable data—and potential purchases—for retail owners.

A Blurring Line Between Tech and Reality

Imagine if you could be transported to Rome—or experience the thrill of speeding in a Lamborghini—just by slipping on a VR headset. The ability to spend on thrill-seeking impulse buys will become even easier as the quality of VR goggles and experiences continues to improve. Soon, we may opt to travel via VR rather than traditional plane—less jet lag, time off work, and no hotel expenses!

Widespread Adoption—Still a Few Years Off

It’s predicted that 200 million VR headsets will be sold by 2020—that’s 2/3 of the U.S. population. In the meantime, VR tech companies would do well to focus on improving the price-point, quality, and style of VR goggles to ensure even wider adoption. After all, many of us don’t like to wear glasses, let along bulky headsets. To ensure mass purchase, headsets will need to take points from other wearables to become more streamlined and attractive—at least if consumers are expected to wear them beyond their living rooms.

No matter what your sector of the retail industry may be, VR absolutely holds a place in it. While the technology itself is not yet perfect, it does hold massive potential for sales, marketing, and branding, not to mention improved user experience and customer satisfaction. Though it’s a few years away from perfection, it would be wise to jump on board now. Otherwise, you could virtually get left behind.

Daniel Newman

Principal Analyst of at Futurum Research
Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited by CNBC, CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best-Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.