How is Virtual Reality in Online Shopping Changing Retail?
This past year has been pivotal in the retail business, and we learned the hard way that having a strong online presence is vital to a business’ survival. The COVID19 outbreak confined consumers to their homes, forcing even the most reluctant ones to adopt online shopping.
At the same time, the competition in eCommerce rose to another level, with retailers flocking the market with new or updated online stores. To remain relevant, eCommerce entrepreneurs are shifting towards technologies that help the consumer achieve a more pleasant, personal, and engaging online shopping experience.
In this article, we examine the progress of virtual reality-based shopping and how the trend continues to build up. To this end, we go through the main benefits of using VR in online shopping and learn about possible applications and success stories of the technology.
The evolution of VR
At first, VR might seem quite futuristic and aimed at specific niches. However, both the evolution of VR hardware and its adoption by the larger public has been quite consistent in the past few years.
With the proliferation of powerful smartphones and budget friendly solutions such as Google Cardboard, VR is entering the mainstream. Even the more expensive, dedicated VR headsets are gaining ground with Statista predicting more than 43.5 million units sold by 2025.
On top of that, the technology could gain mass appeal thanks to the newly released generations of graphics cards and gaming consoles. What was formerly discarded as a fad by eCommerce entrepreneurs is becoming an increasingly mainstream technology.
To understand how virtual reality in online shopping can help your business make more sales and retain customers, we need to explore what benefits this technology brings as a service.
Pros of virtual reality for online retail
VR and Augmented Reality (AR) pose the benefit of creating something that used to be exclusive to brick-and-mortar stores. By using VR eCommerce, you can create a realistic shopping experience, one that the customer will find hard to forget.
Just imagine - instead of reading the description and size of a dress, you get to try it on in the comfort of your home before you decide on your purchase. It is quite obvious which one the customer will find more engaging.
Additionally, there are a few more benefits of virtual reality in business that could boost the performance of your online store. These are:
- Immersive and memorable customer experiences. With VR, you can create virtual shops that are as close as possible to visiting the real thing.
- Offer 3D product views. VR is considered to be the next best thing to actually holding a product in your hands. It’s a “try before you buy” approach where customers can experience the product before they can purchase it.
- Get more social engagement. VR and AR are a unique experience. Hence, the shopping moment is often worth sharing which does wonders for brand awareness on social media.
- Create customer loyalty. The majority of consumers still prefer shopping in brick and mortar stores. Using virtual reality in retail can create an extra incentive for your customers to choose your online store over their local mall.
- Break the linguistic barrier. While pictures are a great way to complement your product description, VR is much better at demonstrating a product’s features and capabilities. Explaining the functionalities of complicated products can be done in a much more accessible manner.
- Increase your marketing capabilities. VR can help you create interactive ads for social media that are much more engaging than simple fixed pictures.
These benefits will have direct implications for your eCommerce performance. Let’s see how it all connects.
Direct implications of VR benefits on your online store performance
- A more engaged experience should have a positive impact on conversion rates and result in reduced abandoned cart rates. Thanks to VR, consumers are able to make confident buying decisions.
- eCommerce is plagued by return rates which average at 25% in comparison to 5-8% for brick-and-mortar stores. Giving your customers the ability to experience the product before purchase could reduce returns up to 23%.
- Reach an international customer base thanks to the reduced language barriers in your product descriptions.
- Increased revenue, as 40% of customers state that they would spend more in an online store if they would be offered a VR or AR option to view the products.
Let’s illustrate these benefits with some tangible examples and the different ways they can be achieved.
Applications of virtual reality in eCommerce
Virtual reality in online shopping can be applied to a wide array of sectors. Let’s have a look at the ones that stand out from the crowd and offer the most benefits.
Shopping for furniture online is not easy. Even when you have the exact measures for a given piece, it’s hard to imagine how it would look in your home.
Thanks to the spatial awareness of VR, the user can input the exact size of their living room and transpose the furniture in it. They can see how it looks or if it fits in the space they have reserved for it.
Moreover, the customer can try out different colors and styles which can greatly help with their decision when making a purchase.
Success story - Houzz
Following the example of major furniture retailers like Ikea and Amazon, Houzz launched a 3D viewing AR app for smartphones. It allows customers to try out furniture in their home before they buy it. Check out the video below to see how it works.
Thanks to this interactive 3D experience, Houzz saw an 11x boost in conversions with customers spending twice as much time in the app as before.
Make-up and beauty products
Usually, to pick the right skin tone for a makeup foundation, you need to try it on. Different brands have different shades, and not everything can suit the buyer. This usually limits customers only to purchase familiar products. Furthermore, it makes the results of new product releases or listings unpredictable.
VR offers different solutions such as VR or AR mirrors that can realistically replicate the customer’s skin tone. This way, the buyer can try different makeup shades and adventure into a new brand with a decreased risk of returns.
Success story - L’Oreal
Beauty giant L’Oreal acquired AI and AR leader ModiFace in 2018, which has immensely increased the online customer experience for the brand.
Their Genius Makeup app allows customers to upload a picture or video, try different makeups and looks, share them on social media, and purchase the products they used directly through the app.
Clothing goods and jewelry
Similar to the beauty industry, the fashion sector works on a try-before-you-buy approach. One of the main gripes of buying clothes online is that they rarely fit. With virtual reality shopping online, customers can bring the fitting room to their home.
Thanks to depth sensors and cameras, users can transpose themselves in VR and try out different pieces of clothing. Color, size, fit, everything can easily be switched to get the perfect match.
It helps online stores lessen the shopping experience gap with brick and mortar retailers and improves the excruciating experience of changing clothes in a tiny booth.
Success story - Reebok
Following the lockdown in the summer of 2020, Reebok launched an app in partnership with AR developer Wanna Kicks that allows customers to try on their new sneaker model on their phone.
This successful campaign had a social media reach of over 2 million and got 26.5k clicks on the "buy in-store" button. Reebok managed to surpass sales expectations even though customers were confined in quarantine.
Virtual retail stores (of the future)
Finally, the ultimate experience of virtual reality in online shopping is to be completely transported in a digitally-rendered store. In this case, everything from the choice of the shop to the payment process happens in the VR environment.
All of the previous examples can be applied here - customers can browse isles, try on clothing, jewelry, and makeup, create their own living room, consult electronics features and view them in 3D, talk to virtual assistants… The possibilities are endless.
While such projects are still in a conceptual phase, the fast-paced technology evolution might lead to mass adoption. Below is an example of what a VR visit to a department store might look like in the very near future.
The eCommerce sector needs continuous innovation to remain competitive both in its niche and with brick and mortar stores. Virtual reality in online shopping can help overcome some fundamental challenges by recreating an immersive shopping experience, similar to real life.
Here’s a short overview of what we went over in this article:
- The present and future adoption of VR and AR technologies.
- The main benefits and implications of VR in online shopping.
- Some examples of how VR can enhance the shopping experience in different retail sectors.
Hopefully, this post gave you a good idea of the possibilities offered by VR, and how incorporating it into your marketing strategy can put you ahead of the competition.