Earlier this month, Apple unveiled its new virtual reality (VR) headset, Apple Vision Pro – and it has the potential to change customer experience on many different levels. For retailers, of course, this raises all types of questions. Principally, what does it mean for the future of retail, and how can I become part of it?
To answer the first question, the good news is this technology will bring with it a whole new world of opportunity. While social media platforms are a great way of showcasing new trends and inspiring demand, customers still need to order online to try on outfits.
With VR, it becomes possible for consumers to visit their favourite retailer’s online via an interactive shop front in a virtual environment and virtually try on a new look all from the comfort of their own home.
The same goes for the potential for people to view interior products, such as a new sofa, in 3D and true to scale in their home. The result is a new opportunity to create an exciting, hassle-free retail shopping trip that transcends physical boundaries and opens up the playing field to all levels of retail.
But while the potential innovation benefits of the VR revolution may appear vast, there are still a number of key considerations for retailers when it comes to preparing to join it:
1. User experience
Unlike 2D design, the VR experience is one of a 360 world. It creates a unique opportunity to stimulate all human senses in a fully immersive, interactive journey and it’s important to build accordingly. This requires intuitive navigation and seamless interaction, enhancing the sense of presence and making the virtual UX more compelling and engaging. While most designers may be well versed in designing for mobile apps and the like, this requires a whole mindset in terms of designing controls, feedback systems, and the visual cues required to guide participants through the virtual realm effortlessly.
2. Product interactivity
In the virtual world, consumers expect to interact with products in a realistic manner. Detailed 3D models, accurate textures, and the ability to manipulate objects can enhance the shopping experience. There’s also an opportunity to take it one step further. For example, to add another layer to the product experience the Levi’s Time Square store enables shoppers to customise their jeans with photos, images and text designed by local artists for their own individual look. Equally, ASOS offers its own virtual catwalk where customers can choose to see models wearing a product via their smartphone. In this way, it’s about offering customers a way to experience the products for sale in a way usually reserved for brick and mortar spaces – if not even better.
3. Tech infrastructure
A VR-led approach will require retailers to create, maintain and modify virtual, augmented and other immersive content with ease. It will also require that content to be easily integrated in existing marketing channels. Yet, it’s surprising how many huge global retailers have marketing tech stacks that resemble Frankenstein’s monster.
We regularly conduct research into the state of CMS in the UK and the findings show that the majority of businesses are still using outdated and inflexible CMS systems to run their marketing. For example, 55% said they had to use multiple CMS systems. Using more than one CMS can cause disorganised workflows, content siloing, and communication issues, as well as increasing costs and reducing efficiency.
To put it bluntly, if your business is struggling to efficiently run its existing website, produce personalised communications campaigns and effectively manage content on its channels as it is. This doesn’t just mean having a headless CMS platform. It also means ensuring that your data infrastructure is up to scratch. Effective marketing is run on data and that is even more true for VR experiences.
4. Inclusion and accessibility
That said, it’s not important not to get swept away in the lure of a new innovation leap and forget your bread and butter. As VR technology is still emerging, not all consumers have access to the required devices. In fact, it’s reported that the new Vision Pro will cost $3,499 – even higher than the rumoured $3,000 price tag – putting it well out of reach for some consumers until prices come down. Retailers must therefore maintain their traditional e-commerce presence and consider an inclusive strategy that caters to all customers.
5. Digital storytelling
Many retailers are already investing heavily in their ‘brand story’: a unique opportunity to convey your brand origin, identity, values and vision all at once. Done well it can not only transform how customers perceive and feel about your brand but have a strong impact on conversion rates, especially in ecommerce. A virtual storefront offers a unique platform to take this one step further to weave immersive narratives around your brand and products, thus further enhancing customer connection.
Ultimately, even with Apple’s imminent headset launch, there is still a long way to go before we can see the full effects of the VR revolution. However, that is not to say that retailers can afford to lose sight of the conversation. As demonstrated by the major innovation leaps before, it will be those that take heed ahead of time that will win the VR race ahead. By beginning to think more virtually and ensuring they have a good foundation in place with an intuitive UX and good, modern tech infrastructure, retailers can improve their online presence.