Virtual reality has the potential to disrupt the entire retail industry.
This statement may appear far-fetched, especially since the two topics seem so unrelated, but it's surprisingly true and, increasingly, more investors and retail companies are starting to take note.
BDO USA, one of the top financial consulting and assurance firms in the world, notes in its Consumer Business Compass blog that the retail industry's adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is not an incredibly new tactic: "[Both] have been rapidly developing as viable business tools to connect with consumers in new ways and revolutionize business processes."
Consider Alibaba's newly unveiled VR store. Interested shoppers will be able to don a VR headset and browse a virtual location. In other words, they'll be shopping via virtual reality. Of course, this scenario is the most obvious way to leverage VR technology, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be the most successful.
Still, even an application as simple as Alibaba's is exciting. Most people will be interested in giving it a try just to see what it's all about.
But how will any of this shape or change the industry? Easy.
Virtual reality is all about delivering an experience. From the moment you slip on a VR headset you are immersed in the audio, video and experience of that virtual world. Retailers can shape this experience to provide an enjoyable and enticing moment for their customers.
How VR Will Reshape the Retail "Experience"
VR changes everything, simply by offering completely new channels and platforms for retailers. Retailers can leverage the idea of creating an immersive and fresh experience to market products, services, and more.
Samsung did just this with a recent campaign. At select AT&T stores, they allowed consumers to try on a Samsung Gear VR headset and jump into a virtual experience. Obviously, this is something you'd expect from a VR product, but it's the way in which Samsung did it that should turn heads.
Consumers who put on the Gear VR were treated to a virtual Carnival Cruise. A cross-promoted sweepstakes even offered them the opportunity to win a real cruise.
Samsung took an experience that nearly everyone finds enjoyable - a vacation cruise - and applied it to their product. Now consider that setup for a moment, and imagine the possibilities.
Home improvement companies can also give consumers a small taste of what their homes would be like after installing the company's products. Lowe's has already done this by creating a remodeled virtual space for customers to explore.
Then there are sports and activity companies, who could allow consumers to try out products without ever leaving the store.
Ambitious retailers can create a virtual store so consumers can browse products and goods without ever leaving home. The only requirement is a pair of VR glasses or a capable headset.
And that's not even including the many possibilities related to Samsung's marketing scheme. Companies could take something as unrelated as a vacation cruise, and tie it into their goods and services - through the experience it offers.
Don't Forget About AR Tech
Another form of virtual reality is called augmented reality or AR. The concept of AR is just as simple, believe it or not. It takes digital and virtual experiences and projects them into the real world.
Pokemon Go is an excellent - and popular - version of AR tech at play. Players traverse the real world via a GPS-based map with a goal to collect virtual creatures called Pokemon. When it's time to capture a Pokemon, their phone employs the camera and projects the virtual creature into the real world.
Players are still interacting in the physical world - not a digital or virtual one - but with virtual objects.
One great example of this tech in retail is how Converse used a mobile AR app to allow their customers to try on shoes. Ultimately, Converse is doing the same exact thing Samsung did with their Gear VR headset. They are providing customers with an experience. In this case, the experience to try on Converse branded shoes, without stepping foot into a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
How awesome is that?
It's clear that this technology will make everything about the "experience." Successful products have always shown customers a unique experience, per se, but never quite like this.