When it comes to property and real estate, virtual reality (VR) has a remarkable number of use cases that are set to transform the way brands engage with customers.
But before we dive into the many applications and benefits of VR in the real estate sector, it’s important to understand the technology and how consumers perceive it.
VR is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that you can interact with using special equipment such as a headset and controllers. It sits under the wider extended reality (XR) umbrella, which also includes augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).
Agency SYZYGY XR recently polled 1,000 consumers in the UK to better understand their mindset, behaviour, and decision-making in relation to VR. Advancements in the underlying technology have brought the cost of consumer VR products down while increasing quality and functionality. When asked: “What are the biggest barriers stopping you from purchasing a VR headset?”,”quality” ranked as the lowest barrier to entry, with just three percent of consumers concerned about the quality of VR products.
Second, consumer behaviour has matured to a point of acceptance and anticipation – in other words, the modern shopper can now envision VR in their daily lives.
According to our research, 72% of consumers believe that VR will become part of their daily routine, just as the smartphone is now. Younger generations are even more bullish. In fact, 81 percent of 16- to 34-year-olds believe that VR will play a ubiquitous role in their daily lives.
Keeping up with change is pivotal, but adoption must be done in such a way that it solves existing problems in the business infrastructure.
The commercial case for VR in real estate
VR is a powerful tool for real estate brands, but most have yet to harness the technology in a meaningful way.
Get this: more than half of all shoppers (53 percent) would be more likely to purchase a product or service if it included a VR experience. While the public holds a positive view of VR, just 26 percent of consumers have taken part in a VR experience when purchasing a product or service.
This gap between consumer demand and brand activation highlights an exciting opportunity: today’s shoppers would be more likely to purchase if advertising included a VR experience. Yet brands either a) aren’t offering VR experiences or b) aren’t delivering VR experiences that provide quality, value and substance. As a property developer or real estate agency, now is the time to act.
Redefining the future of Customer Experience
Over the past decade, pioneers like Amazon have rewritten the rules of business, meaning today’s real estate brands must deliver purpose-driven experiences that are fast, reliable and super-efficient.
Consider this: in 2019, 81 percent of companies expect to compete on the basis of Customer Experience. While competition is high, the rewards are great. In fact, customers who have a very good experience with a brand are 3.5x more likely to repurchase and 5x more likely to recommend that company to family and friends.
In 2018, Danwood S.A., a leading property development company in Europe, approached us with a challenge: “How can we convince potential clients to purchase a premium house that is not yet built and can’t be seen real life?”
Designed by Danish architects, the property development featured luxurious, modern design with a clean look and finish. To capture the essence of the homes, we created software that would take the customer into a virtual house, so they could look, feel and touch.
Tasked with creating a line of premium houses named ‘Vision’, we crafted each home in 3D with astonishing attention to detail and light. The experience, which only requires VR goggles and a sales representative, means that the property line can be shown to customers in any market across Europe.
Vision for tomorrow
For the first time, property viewing has become mobile and agile. This is a bold move that redefines the future of real estate.
With VR, the customer and agent experience full immersion in the house. This technology serves as more than just a compelling visualisation; it actually enhances the selling process, since a salesman can enter the property with the customer and advise or even modify aspects of the home as they journey together.
For an industry that relies heavily on aesthetic appeal to drive marketing and sales, the use of lifelike VR simulations opens up an entirely new window of exploration. With in-store VR headsets, real estate agents can build virtual applications that thrust the customer into a rich, vivid, lifelike home.
For businesses skeptical about the significance of XR, we must learn from history: innovation speaks louder than words.
As the world hurtles towards a more immersive digital ecosystem, the convergence of VR and human behaviour will usher in a new era of discovery, interaction and purchase.
The current conditions for UK high street retailers are far from favourable.
Not only are they battling market pressure and challenges from ecommerce competitors, but also increasing rents and tough trading conditions. To ensure survival, retailers today must keep their finger on the pulse of all the latest technological advancements.
What businesses must remember is that as technology advances, so do customer shopping behaviours and expectations. We are already starting to see more and more businesses implement chatbots, artificial intelligence, and messaging apps to keep up with demand. We are in a time where consumers have never been more vocal on their wants, and this is highlighted with the results of our research.
Our data showed that in order to satisfy customer needs organisations have to offer a variety of channels in which to engage with – 81 percent of respondents demanded this. Consumers not only want choice but also, a seamless, integrated experience across all of them. Taking this one step further, many consumers are wanting Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) dressing rooms and even drone delivery, to be a possibility.
Termed as “technologies of the future”, large, online and in-store retailers are already reaping the benefits of AR and VR in an attempt to make the customer journey more immersive and engaging. For instance, IKEA, has introduced Amazon’s AR view to help customers visualise how furniture will look in their home before making a purchase.
For customers who prefer ‘ease of use’, these new technologies couldn’t be more perfect as they allow consumers a chance to ‘try’ before they buy. As well as convenience, AR and VR are helping stores to stand apart from the traditional retailer. L’Oreal Paris, for example, guarantees loyal customers with an in-store virtual makeover tool that enables you to try make-up and certain looks before buying. On paper, it has never been so simple for retailers to deliver a more engaging and convenient approach to Customer Experience.
However, AR and VR are not the only new inventions transforming the CX landscape. Increasingly, we are seeing chatbots being used as a more convenient way for customers to interact with brands, specifically when they require assistance. In fact, 87 percent of businesses say self-service customer enquiries are a current priority of theirs.
Apart from the obvious benefits like saving businesses money, self-service chatbots are improving CX and satisfaction. It’s fair to say we have all had our share of agonising waits and frustrating calls with agents and can therefore, understand the appeal of having access to instant help and real-time information.
In the age of GDPR and data sensitivity, customers are very particular about who they give their personal data to. With this in mind, retailers must remember to be upfront about who or what they’re speaking to. Giving customers the option to self-serve will only succeed if you’re as transparent as possible.
Ultimately, although traditionally we associate a human touch with CX, retailers that do not adopt the latest technologies and integrate them into the customer offering jeopardise losing the loyalty of existing customers as well as potential new ones.
However, before businesses embark on this digital transformation, they must remember not to run before they can walk. Implementing chatbot technology initially can be just as effective as implementing technologies which are grabbing the headlines, such as AR and VR.
Customer relationships with brands continue to evolve, based upon changing expectations, and desires, and impacted massively by the speed at which ecommerce develops.
The ability to buy almost anything, quickly online, has altered the brand loyalty that used to be built up by visits in store.
Exacerbating this instability,the past year has seen the decline and fall of many household names, including Maplin and Toys R Us. House of Fraser announced 30 store closures, and Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Mothercare, and Carphone Warehouse have been the subject of ominous profit loss reports and quick-step restructuring and branding initiatives. All of this has created an unease and negativity around the future of the high street. However, perhaps it is just further evidence that the high street is, and should be, evolving.
Before online shopping became so omnipotent, the regular high street department store relied and flourished on basic principles of choice, value, convenience, and efficient customer service. Ecommerce then arrived, and blew this idea out of the water. They competed aggressively on choice, value, convenience and efficiency.
So what can retailers do about this challenge?
What seems to be separating those brands that are managing to stay relevant is a willingness to enrich and evolve the physical experience of their brand, through ‘experiential retail’ approaches. The experiential retail movement might be thought of as a new wave of innovative experimentation by retailers that takes their bricks-and-mortar stores beyond being merely a point of transaction. Through experiential approaches, traditional shops are being reconceptualised as hubs for immersive experiences, meeting places for vibrant communities, and even unique event spaces.
As if to underpin the above evidence that despite the remarkable rise of ecommerce, consumers actually crave sensory-rich physical shopping experiences, experiential spaces are not only being embraced by pre-internet established brands. For example, ecommerce giants such as Amazon, realising the value of providing tactile ‘real world’ experiences, are heading in the opposite direction with the establishment of bricks-and-mortar shops.
Some impressive recent examples reflecting this trend include FarFetch’s new London store; John Lewis’ ‘experience desks’; and Ikea’s Facebook competition to stay the night in one of its vast warehouse outlets with a sleep expert.
The above examples show that in the digital age, those prospering on the high street are the ones brave enough to think outside the conventional box. To create deeper, more imaginative, and immersive Customer Experience that incentivises people to step away from their laptops and smart devices, and step into a store where the promise of human-centred interaction, value exchange, community building, or just plain fun, awaits them.
Some recent fantastic examples of experiential retail include:
Farfetch’s new London store. Customers can be recognised as soon as they step foot in the store via an app connected to their online shopping account – providing assistants with an instant overview of purchasing history and preferences.
In addition, RFID-enabled clothes rails are able to detect products that interest customers, and have them added them to their online wish list. And touch-screen mirrors enable customers to request alternative sizes, as well as paying up without leaving the dressing room.
A truly innovative example of how the convergence of online and offline can take customer personalisation to the next level.
The high street brand that never puts a foot wrong, John Lewis, recently carried out a revamp of its store design, to include ‘experience desks’, where concierges are on-hand to book special services such as blow dries and manicures for shoppers in-between their retail therapy.
In addition, at their new Cheltenham store, the brand have been trialling a private shopping service that will give customers the shop floor all to themselves (providing your bill tops a cool £10,000, that is) with staff available after normal shopping hours to serve individuals, groups of friends or families.
A great example of a brand using experiential marketing to create one-of-a-kind events. Fulfilling the mundane fantasy of many a flat-pack furniture shopper, Ikea set up a Facebook competition where 100 winners were invited to stay the night in one of its vast warehouse outlets.
Customers were able to luxuriate with massages and salon services, as well as pick out the mattress, sheets and pillows they wanted for a perfect night’s rest.A sleep expert was even on hand with tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
Back in 2014, Topshop ventured into the world of immersive tech to create something a little bit different for London Fashion Week. Shoppers in their flagship Oxford Street store were able to don special headsets and ‘take a seat’ for the retailer’s catwalk show taking place at the Tate Modern – in 360 degree virtual reality.
And more lately, in the spring of 2017 Topshop decided to re-dip their toes in the water (pardon the pun) of experiential playfulness with a virtual reality waterslide ride taking customers on an adrenaline-fuelled journey through Oxford Street.
Ultimately, retailers understand that they still need relationships with customers, and loyal customers are still worth investing in. The development of experiential retail has given the high street armoury to re-engage customers, and give them a reason to come in store. Those brands providing brave, exciting, immersive experiences will shine head and shoulders amongst the rest.