Virtual Retailers: It’s Not If. It’s When.

At RedFox Creative we talk a lot about virtual reality and how the technology is expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. As we have stated before virtual reality is expected to gain 185 million new users by the end of 2017. In its current state, virtual reality caters to the video game industry and interactive digital content. All it will take for the technology to boom is when consumers can start benefiting from the technology in ways that impact everyday life. One of the easiest and most impactful ways that virtual reality can start impacting the lives of everyday people is through shopping. Food, clothes, electronics, books, furniture, all of these things have to be bought at retailers. Human beings, by nature, are creatures that constantly look to make existing processes more efficient. With the rise of eCommerce shopping has been made that much easier with a majority of product purchases being made with the click of a mouse. The next step in this shopping evolution is virtual reality. It’s not a matter of if; but when.

The Shift In Consumer Retail Preferences

For years in-store shopping and department stores have remained king in consumer retail spending. Walmart didn’t become the world’s largest retailers overnight, it took years upon years of brand building, offering cheap products in-store, and building a consumer following for the retailing giant to reach its current state. The same can be said for other stores like Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Sears to name a few. Up until recently a large majority of people dedicated entire Saturday’s and Sunday’s for shopping at big-box stores and department stores. This has changed. Over the past five years many of these retailing giants have begun to experience lower profit margins and decreased quarterly earnings. The culprit: online shopping (*cough *cough Amazon.com). The thought process of most consumers being, why get into my car, drive 5 miles to the nearest Walmart, and use up an hour of time during the day all to buy a tube of toothpaste and some razor blades? It is so much easier to log onto Amazon, see a digital picture of what you want, and have it shipped to you at a reduced cost in less than two days. Yet again, human beings found a way to become more efficient in their day-to-day lives. The effects of this shift in consumer preferences from in-store shopping to online shopping can be seen with large stores such as Circuit City, JC Penney, Marshall Field’s, and Sears closing hundreds of store due to dwindling profits, or going to out of business entirely. These retailers never thought that online shopping would take off as it did in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, they were wrong and now risk losing everything to behemoths like Amazon.

Virtual reality’s piece to this puzzle

As with every new and emerging technology a vast majority of consumers are slow to adopt due a variety of factors such as price, usefulness, and functionality. This is the current state of virtual reality and VR headsets….for now. Once the technology becomes cheaper, more functional, and can be proven to make our day-to-day lives easier it is feasible to see a world where every consumer owns a VR headset to shop, play games, watch movies and TV shows, and even travel. However, the first platform that VR is expected to take over is shopping, specifically eCommerce. Sure, anything can be bought on Amazon and you can see what it looks like on a flat screen, but what if the entire experience could be rendered in virtual reality. Imagine stepping into a virtual E-Store of products, anything imaginable that you have the ability to buy. You walk along the digital aisles and are able to pick-up products and view them in 3D space, touch them with haptic feedback, and demo them before you buy without ever having to leave your living room. You then buy the product and it arrives at your doorstep in less than two days.

This 100% digital concept of marketing is not far off, in fact a few stores have already begun to experiment with VR based shopping experiences. Retailers like Myer, eBay, and Alibaba have already launched virtual stores for today’s VR headsets. The consumer feedback has been mixed, but no one has outrightly stated that they think the experience was horrible and that they could never see themselves using the technology in their day-to-day lives.

 

It will be interesting to see how VR continues to evolve and how the applications of the technology will change. However one thing is for certain; there will be a VR headset in the household of every American. The question is just when?

 

Nick Myers is a Partner at RedFox Creative. To send a message, or to leave a comment send an email to nickm@redfoxcreate.com. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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