Virtual Reality in Retail

Virtual reality (VR) is in the midst of a rebirth. A new set of enabling technologies – including faster processor speeds and higher-resolution graphics – are driving a second wave of adoption and experimentation. The result will be a transformative technology that reaches far beyond gaming to reshape multiple industries, from retail to travel to hospitality.

One of the most significant opportunities, we believe, is in the retail space.


When retail meets VR

We believe virtual reality is going to fundamentally transform the human experience of shopping and, in doing so, lift sales for those retailers who get ahead of the curve.

Brands have an opportunity to stake out an innovation leadership position by building custom virtual reality experiences that engage customers beyond physical and digital brand experiences. We call this v-commerce. V-commerce will be the next evolution of e-commerce, as retailers and brands create fully immersive, contextual shopping experiences that go beyond the flat world of 2-D e-commerce.



Along with the inherent excitement it fosters, virtual reality adds an enticing layer of information and comfort to the e-commerce experience. Consumers can be presented with a range of data regarding the products or services they are about to purchase, complemented by their ability to step into the future – into their future selves with said products and services.

With virtual reality removing the barrier of too little information or interaction, consumers are likely to develop a confidence in their purchases that then translates into increased comfort with (and affinity toward) the brand providing such distinct experiences. They are more likely to reach the renowned euphoric state of discovering a great buy, one that they not only wish to brag about, but will also remember and come back for.


Potential applications

Even though widespread mobile adoption still feels a bit distant, we’re already seeing opportunity areas for major brands in v-commerce.


The future of VR adoption

Within the next 12 months, VR enabled mobile devices will be announced by every major smartphone manufacturer. In 3 to 5 years, we anticipate full adoption.


By building a customized virtual reality show world, sports apparel and equipment brands like Nike, Adidas, or New Balance have the potential to show their consumers how workout apparel moves on an athlete’s body, or how a famous golfer tests out clubs. In the world of VR, consumers can immerse themselves into the story of a sports product, discover where the leather from a basketball is made, or learn how to use a specific piece of workout equipment from a top athlete.

Home improvement retailers such as Home Depot or Ace Hardware can create experiences that allow consumers to try power tools, experience different lighting and landscapes, or even see how their kitchen will look after a $20,000 renovation versus a $50,000 renovation.

Outdoor gear retailers such as REI, North Face, or L.L. Bean can create a show world that allows consumers to see what that new tent looks like all set up on a camping excursion. They can climb inside, manipulate the weather conditions, and test the gear with other products.


Merrell VR experience

Merrell ran a VR experience at the Sundance Film Festival to highlight the tractionof Merrell’s new Capra hiking boot. The experience took visitors to the Dolomites, a mountainous region in Italy, and allowed them to walk through the region, cross a rope bridge over a chasm, and walk along a rock wall.


In the future of mass virtual reality adoption, mobile-heavy flash retailers like Gilt Group or Groupon can prompt users to grab their headsets and enter an immersive experience to purchase limited edition products, swipe through options, see how items fit on a mannequin, see how products complement each other, or learn details about designers. For services, consumers can step into a show world that simulates what a spa may look like before they decide to purchase the experience.

The opportunities are there for anyone looking to tell their story in a more intimate and personal way. From travel to automotive, real estate to sporting events, the potential is nearly limitless.


Actions to be taken now

For retailers looking to stay ahead of the curve, there are three actions they should take soon.

1. Start testing − and playing

For most retailers, the appropriate focus in VR is on testing and learning how to create great, original experiences in these new worlds. Apart from maintaining a purview over notable use cases, retailers should look toward their consumers and identify ways in which their shopping experiences could benefit from VR. The next step is finding the appropriate partners for testing those hypotheses, assessing the results, and iterating along the way.

Leading retail brands should be in the test-and-learn phase now, so that when full adoption arrives in three to five years, they will already have this platform in place (for both in-store and v-commerce).

2. A focus on mobile adoption

The immediate opportunity in VR is mobile adoption, so place VR on your mobile roadmaps.

3. Evaluate your technology integration points

Just like with web and mobile, VR must integrate with your backend technology. From a technology perspective, planning for integration will be essential, so that consumers get a rich, personalized experience enabled with current inventory and pricing. If there is one thing we learned from the latest mobile disruption, it is that integration must be accounted for early in the design process.

Virtual reality is a transformational medium, the impact of which we are just starting to explore. To read more about developments in the space, along with successful approaches, download the full article PDF.

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