I was asked to write about how virtual reality (VR) applies to retail about a month ago and really didn’t have much to say on the subject. Now that time has gone by, I’ve seen some exciting new things that can be used in retail.
I recently connected with a company that offers credit card processing within the virtual world. At first, I didn’t get it at all. Why would people want to purchase items when they're in a VR experience? Once I sat down with the people offering this technology and they showed me a demo, it immediately made sense. They showed how it can not only be used for VR store purchases, but more importantly, how it can be used to collect donations at nonprofit events.
Imagine you’re at a charity event gala and you're given a cardboard headset at the beginning of the night and instructed to take it to your table. When the program begins, the emcee asks everyone to download an app and watch a 360-degree experience, using the viewers. This experience immerses you into what the charity does. For instance, imagine being transported into the body of a Wish Kid receiving a wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. You’re actually there and can see where your money goes. Simply amazing! At the end of the video, a voice says you'll now be able to donate to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and you gaze at a donation page where you can make your donation. You've just been immersed in a wish and now you get to donate. You just experienced an incredibly emotional moment, you’re more willing to give than ever, and the nonprofit is ready to take your donation. Simply brilliant!
The next experience was an inspiring 15-second to 20-second video of a woman working out. I didn’t really know why I was seeing the video, but at the end, the video says, “You'll now be transported to a virtual store.” Now you’re in a store that sells the merchandise that the woman was wearing in the video. Again, these people are immersed in a VR video and then right after the video, when they're most engaged, they have they have the opportunity to make a purchase.
It all made sense after those two experiences. I’m there, I’m into it and then BAM, they ask me to make a purchase or a donation. It was a very powerful tool to drive donations to the nonprofit, but I can also see the use for retail. Everything in that VR experience is for sale, and the consumer doesn’t have to go anywhere. A very cool concept.
Next, we go to augmented reality (AR). There are so many different ways to engage shoppers, and all they need to have is their phone plus download an app. AR allows people to hold up their phone at a retail location and see different items in their windows, on their posters, etc. AR takes a “target,” which can be anything from a logo to a picture, and once the app scans the target, some form of content will pop-up inside the phone. All of this can be done with geo-targeting, which means that a retailer can offer a discount on your phone (if you have the app turned on) as you pass its store. The retailer can send you a notification through the app to see a special offer or a celebrity video message. There’s no limit to what can be done with AR and VR to get people to engage with their retail location. Malls can even create a scavenger hunt where users can look for certain logos digitally “placed” throughout the mall in order to collect points, which can be redeemed as a discount that will be sent to your phone.
The sooner there's a global app that can be used on all phones, the more that AR and VR will be accessible to everyone and they won’t need an app to use it. The future is now in retail. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you will soon. Happy shopping.
Richard Oleff is the co-founder of Unofficial Cardboard, a seller of high-quality virtual reality kits.