How could retail ignore an opportunity of having infinite space within a 10x10-foot room? With virtual reality (VR), it’s possible to design, enter and test live realistic retail simulations. Gone are the days when we needed to create mock stores to arrange category management or merchandise real solutions.
Professionals may enter the same virtual environment remotely. Within a retail organization, it’s possible to create a VR space and train colleagues and sales teams about marketing, space allocation, visual merchandising and more.
Collecting data about the user experience inside a VR retail simulation has never been easier. Inside an immersive VR environment it's possible to test products that aren't yet on the market, putting them on a virtual shelf to study consumer reactions and behavior to real-time merchandising.
Integrating an eye-tracker with a head mount display, it's now possible to clearly monitor the consumer gaze and behavior minus the complex devices in the real store or in a real "ghost" store.
VR analytics is growing fast, and the idea to have a system that can track every behavior in a huge retail context using a very small room cannot be ignored.
The use of VR for trade marketing or consumer and market research passes through the need of digitalizing products in order to fill the virtual environment with realistic 3-D objects. In 2018, retailers have the freedom to create their own strategies on how to collect digital pictures of their products in order to fill their catalogs — paper or online.
In October 2016, Walmart's technology incubator, Store No 8, hosted startups with scanning and digitalizing capabilities among the group of VR-focused companies which Walmart is supporting and accelerating. Thanks to the new generation of smartphones like the iPhoneX, the opportunity to use VR as a business tool is expanding and has become more simplified when it comes to digitalizing product.
The new e-commerce opportunity could change the future of retail thanks to VR technology. It's v-commerce, an immersive virtual reality retail simulation, which can bring consumers to the store directly from their sofas. While we may not see consumer VR mass adoption as it relates to shopping, some visionary retailers are already testing VR stores.
VR can be added to real stores (e.g., a store-in-store virtual experience), augmenting the store space or differentiating offers to emphasize brands through marketing-oriented VR experiences. A store-in-store could be an opportunity to study how a consumer would react to a new v-commerce retail format while we wait for the mass adoption of the home VR experience, which doesn't seem so far away.
VR is quickly becoming a strategic retail asset as a new standard technology to create collaborative environments for training and trade marketing, for new consumer and market research opportunities, and for studying futuristic v-commerce environments that retail can no longer afford to ignore.
Matteo Esposito is the founder of inVRsion, a company that develops ultra-realistic and customized virtual reality experiences for B-to-B.