Virtual reality is finally here.
After a shaky start several years ago, the technology that is needed to make VR a reality is now widely available.
Clearly the initial focus will be on the gaming sector, but businesses that see a new channel to communicate with their customers are developing their services to herald what could be a major new retail experience.
As the high street continues to be a challenging environment for all store owners, could new technologies like VR offer a way for stores to compete, especially with the growing mobile commerce channel?
In their last report WalkerSands Communications said about the US retail sector: “More than a third of consumers (35 per cent) say they would shop more online if they were able to try on a product virtually using a product like Oculus Rift, and 63 per cent said they expect it to impact their shopping experience in the future.”
What is clear for your store is that this technology can’t be ignored. As new and cheaper VR hardware becomes available, early adopters will be joined by the masses, who will want to see VR experiences wherever possible.
Google’s Cardboard VR headset illustrates how a low-tech approach can be novel and that will prime a consumer base for more immersive experiences in the future. Businesses such as Trillenium are already showing how VR could transform retail.
For sports brands, VR looks set to deliver the kind of marketing and product testing that simply hasn’t been possible in the past. Already brands such as Oakley are using VR to help them showcase new products, including their PRIZM range of lenses. With technology supplied by Visualise, the company is able to literally bring a new dimension to their product marketing.
Speaking to Sports Insight, Paul Sackey, ex-England rugby player who has trialled VR said: “I believe VR will have an enormous impact and I find that incredibly exciting. VR has the potential potential to transform the human experience of shopping and so it could completely disrupt the retail industry over the next decade. Modern day retailing is fastpaced, trendsetting and at the leading edge of popular culture, so retailers who embrace new technologies will thrive where others fail.”
Retailers are already experimenting with VR. Using the Oculus Rift, customers of the Westfield Shopping Centre were treated to a VR fashion show. And the mobile network EE also linked with BT Sport to experience the Chelsea versus Arsenal match via VR headsets in their London stores.
“In 2017 we’ll see continued development of VR, particularly the ability to make payments within a VR-world,” said Steve Thomas, CTO, Omnico Group. “Alibaba recently made headway with this, allowing users to make purchases by nodding at items within a virtual supermarket. Just as social media and online video have evolved to allow clickable links to products, so too will VR evolve as a commerce platform.”
How commerce and VR experiences will converge has yet to be clearly defined. What is coming into focus though is that VR will be a force in the high street. For sports retailers in particular, this technology opens up a myriad of opportunities.
Customer connections Shopping today is now more about the experience itself than the actual purchase of goods. Flagship stores of leading retailers are moving increasingly towards offering personalised experiences.
A good example is Topman’s relaunched Oxford Street flagship that saw the introduction of a personal shopping lounge and barber shop, whilst barber shops now serve beer and cocktails alongside Fussball.
Dominic DeTerville, director of commercial partnerships at VR City, said: “VR will enable people to test sporting goods in an environment very close to the one in which they will be used. If Cycle Surgery put a new Pinarello bike on a turbo trainer in store and offered shoppers the chance to put on a VR headset to go on a training ride with Team Sky, it would deliver standout in a competitive space, making it a destination and driving favourability for the retail brand.”
Dr Johnny Hon, Chairman of Gate Ventures, an investment company focused on media, entertainment and e-commerce also concluded: “This is a pivotal point in sports retailing as consumers are buying a lifestyle associated with the product and the brand. They will be able to experience how the clothes move on an athlete’s body, the speed at which you can run in trainers, learn how to use a specific piece of equipment and experience these in different landscapes. VR will allow for a genuine relationship to flourish between sport retailers, their products and consumers that will go beyond the world of e-commerce.”
As VR develops there is little doubt that it will become part of the retail landscape. Sports retailers are a sector that could massively benefit from this technology, as it becomes more commonplace. Testing the water now to assess its possibilities is a sensible strategy that could pay huge dividends in the future.