Guest author Konstantin Andreev is the CEO and Founder of Verdom IT Projects and 360-degree mobile app Round.me.
Virtual reality is still in the early stages, and it still has several waves yet to go before entering the mainstream. But, with established companies dabbling in VR campaigns, it’s already proving to be a compelling storytelling tool that breaks both physical and economic barriers.
Here’s how five industries are using VR to increase engagement, return on investment (ROI), and overall customer satisfaction.
Customers cite “wrong size” as the most common reason they return items purchased online. But the return process is a postal nightmare and, quite frankly, not profitable to either the business or the patron. Even when you visit a physical shop, the return process can still be a mess of long lines and paperwork.
Enter the digital fitting room.
Retailers like Rebecca Minkoff are adapting virtual technology to combat the “fit” dilemma. Blending brick-and-mortar business with a digital approach, the store installed touchscreen mirrors in their onsite fitting rooms.
“Online, consumers have gotten used to getting recommendations and selecting products they want in the size they want, but the pain point is always around fit,” said Nilofer Vahora, Rebecca Minkoff’s vice president of licensing and product innovation. “Bringing the ‘smart’ mirror technology into the store creates a more convenient and personalized experience for the shopper.” The company is also selling a “chic” Google Cardboard headset and offering users a front row seat to its exclusive Fall 2015 runway fashion show, filmed in VR.
The fitting room has become a destination for tech makers too. Microsoft wants to bring Kinect technology to its own take on a VR fitting room that can serve customers at home.
Strong visuals are key to conversion rates (or turning a window shopper into a paying customer). It becomes harder to abandon the shopping cart when you can virtually see how good it looks on you. Studies show that brick-and-mortar retailers who get shoppers into their dressing rooms will convert 67% of them into buyers. Some retailers have started using innovative methods to get them there—both in the store and online.
VR can cast a spotlight on a photographer’s talent and profile, while giving audiences a truly immersive experience. With multiple photography channels via social, professionals tend to get lost in the shuffle. Flat, one dimensional (and most likely over-filtered) photos hardly stand out amid cluttered networks, and it can be hard to convey true art and dimension.
Originality is needed more than ever, and that’s where VR fits in. Imagine things like photo effects supplemented with VR headsets, for instance.
Photographers have begun to adopt 360-degree photo sharing apps to showcase more depth and interaction in their photos. Several are already compatible with VR headsets, such as Google Cardboard. Most recently, photographer Aram Pan has been getting impressive press with his 360 videos of North Korea.
Folks with wanderlust can experience their next epic vacation before it actually happens. This scenario has inspired many hospitality businesses to use 360-degree panoramic images as a standard tool to promote their destinations.
With virtual reality technology, these hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs could more fully immerse travelers in their dream venues, boosting the chance they’d physically visit in real life. Already, users can virtually step inside Tokyo nightlife, Bali villas and Parisienne cafes.
VR can deliver more than just an impression, however. Hotel chains could offer customers a true feel for how large their room will actually be. One of the world’s most important and profitable hotel chains, the Marriott, is currently working on what it refers to as its “4-D experience” based around Oculus Rift.
The strategy takes the idea of “try before you buy” to new, virtual heights. Marriott is not the only travel company experimenting with VR software and hardware. Others—such as Qantas Airways and Destination BC in Canada—are also testing out the technology for their own promotional campaigns. For restaurants, Yelp photos can only go so far. VR apps could give potential patrons a more realistic feel for a location, including its event space.
Realtors are buying up VR cameras left and right to give clients virtual walk-throughs, so they can make that sale. They can see it in 3D, inside and outside, to study all the possible advantages and pitfalls.
According to Matterport, a firm that offers 3D reconstruction, realtors are averaging about 1.2 million views per month for their VR video uploads. Projects go beyond 2D 360-degree photos; they can be a stereo-panorama with 3D effect, or even a CGI 3D experience.
Today, real-estate agent Matthew Hood has brought VR to Sotheby’s International Realty, where he uses the Samsung’s Oculus-powered Gear VR headset to show luxury homes in Malibu. It offers a major benefit, since most of the homes there sell to clients who live abroad. (Plus, the neighbors—often high-profile celebrities—appreciate having fewer visitors.)
Buying a car can be one of the most overwhelming experiences for a customer. It’s not always easy to pick from a variety of models, interiors, insurance factors, safety features on the spot—especially when it’s one of the largest purchases a household makes.
And yet, most promotional photography don’t accurately portray the cars for sale. Even professional images can’t give customers a realistic idea of what to expect, often showcasing special lighting and artificial amplifications instead. A VR viewing could shed more light on the actual condition of the vehicle.
The process of creating video with this technology is also becoming simpler all the time—thanks in part to efforts by Google, Jaunt and others—which could extend VR beyond marketing images on manufacturer websites. Sellers trying to advertise used cars could get in on the action.
Ford is already one step ahead there, making VR central to its automotive development. Audi, too, has embraced VR to bring the showroom to people’s living rooms. Virtual showrooms also make it fun for window shoppers to sit in the driver’s seat of a Lamborghini or Aston Martin. (You know, if $230,000 is just be a smidge out of a consumer’s price range.)
The applications for virtual reality extends across several industries—from retail, to food and beverage, to gaming. While we’re still a little ways out from full, mainstream adoption, the growth of interest by manufacturers, as well as the increasingly wallet-friendly pricing for headsets, are bringing more people closer to this new, immersive medium.
In order to bank on this sector, however, it’s important for businesses to establish their position in it early on. That way, they can lead the field when the time comes.
Photo credit: ReadWrite