The Basics Of VR In Retail

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Virtual reality is a gaming technology first, and everything else second. That doesn’t mean VR is its most important application (those using VR to train for complex surgeries would likely argue that point), but it does mean that gaming in some sense drives the technology. The games get the headlines, the games sell the devices, and the games help push it all forward. But VR is useful in many spaces that have nothing to do with gaming, including retail, which we’ll get to in a moment. To understand the basic idea though, you need only grasp that much of virtual reality beyond gaming is designed to put people in real environments, as opposed to the fake ones we see in gaming. Consider the following: 

VR in Travel - Whether to simulate specific travel experiences (such as touring museums) or help with travel planning (by exposing people to hotels, neighborhoods, etc.), VR is helping people to visualize their surroundings at potential destinations. Basically, it’s become a more immersive version of looking through destination photos online. 

VR in Sports - There are some early examples of VR allowing people to feel like they’re sitting in prime seats at actual live sporting events. And beyond simple entertainment, this could also impact the sports betting industry. Bookmakers already emphasize the need to stay up-to-date with relevant contests, and those watching in VR will be doing just that - and potentially conducting live betting activity in the process. 

VR in Real Estate - This is actually something that was talked about fairly early in the current VR revolution, and it’s come to fruition rather quickly. VR immerses participants in 3-D models, such that they can effectively explore properties without actually going to visit them in person. It’s a natural next step for realtors and real estate sites, and makes it more possible than ever before to share property online in great detail. 

It’s a subtle difference, but as you can see these kinds of experiences use VR to put people elsewhere in the real world, rather than putting them into a foreign environment as we tend to see in gaming. This is ultimately how VR in retail will work (and is working) as well, working with realistic products and settings but providing simulations nonetheless. So far we’ve seen the following: 

Virtual Fitting Screens - This is a difficult concept to explain in detail, but basically VR and AR technologies are making it possible for people to simply walk by stores, look at screens, and see themselves reflected in different sets of clothing. Samsung actually posted some examples of this working, and as you can see it can basically be a full substitute for fitting rooms. 

At-Home Virtual Shopping - This is the most self-explanatory possibility, and the one that best relates to the information above about VR being used to put us in real environments not our own. Basically, stores can now design programs that allow people sitting at home to browse their stores and shelves in VR. As with the travel example mentioned, it’s a more sophisticated version of looking through online photos, and in this case catalogues. 

Augmented Reality Sampling - Strictly where AR is concerned, we’re also starting to see very simple apps coming out from some major clothing and accessory brands. The idea here is as simple as being able to aim your phone’s camera at your feet and see them as if you’re wearing a new pair of shoes - which you can then theoretically buy with a few touches of your screen. 

Altogether these new concepts and practices should make a significant impact. Right now they seem like fun new gimmicks with varying degrees of potential. But in the near future they could help to reshape and redefine the retail industry.