When you think of virtual reality, gaming and headsets likely come to mind. But it's a  technology that has real business value, as well. That's according to Mark Hardy, CEO of virtual reality technology company InContext Solutions, a B2B platform which creates simulations of shopping experiences for companies in the retail ecosystem. Here are the ways he says VR can help any company.

1. Companies can design new experiences on the fly.

VR can be a way to save money in terms of trying to visualize what a new product or physical environment might look like, without having to actually build something out in the real world. Essentially, it's faster and less expensive than building out in a physical environment.

2. Key players can collaborate in real-time.

Usually, people trying to create a new experience talk on the phone, exchange PowerPoint presentations via email or talk face-to-face about a concept. But in the world of virtual, key players can stand together in a virtual environment to collaboratively experiment with how products, spaces and stores might look in the real world.  

3. VR can provide insights into what will work and what won't.

When e-commerce came to market a whole new stream of data became available in terms of click-through and conversion rates as well as other metrics that allowed companies to become smarter about what consumers wanted and how to better drive sales. VR also lets you analyze customer behavior, but within artificial environments. "The correlation between virtual store sales and physical store sales is .9 or higher, so it is close to what will actually happen in the physical world," he says.  

4. VR can provide competitive advantage.

As opposed to physically putting a product in the market or building a new store, in a virtual world, you can create everything in privacy and do it quickly. "So the speed to market is accelerated... and virtual allows you to do that in secrecy," he says.

5. It will someday allow for the creation of custom e-commerce stores.

A grocery store often stocks about 40,000 products, but the average household only buys 260 of them. If you know which items a particular consumer gravitates toward, why make him or her wade through thousands of others he or she isn't likely to buy? "I can create on the fly virtual stores that are really individualized and personalized to that person," he says. "It's a way to drive sales."

Published on: Apr 26, 2016