Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have been the stuff of dreams since shows like Star Trek first introduced us to the idea of having our very own holodeck. In more recent years that dream has started to materialise, with big players like Samsung, Facebook, Google and HTC all forging ahead with bringing us personal AR and VR technology.
VR’s Rapid Growth
2016 was probably the biggest year for AR and VR with many products either being released into the consumer market or being announced for upcoming release. What happened in 2016 changed the way people thought about technology like this. It was no longer a sci-fi idea, it became a tangible product that every consumer could experience. VR is achieved through a headset that the consumer wears and is then transported to an immersive experience.
AR vs VR
AR is slightly different because digital information is superimposed onto the real world. This can also be achieved via a headset, but is less immersive than a VR headset as the user will still be able to see their real world surroundings. The best part about AR is that most people can experience it right now, as your mobile phone can become the tool to achieve the experience. This makes AR more accessible for most people but companies like Google and Samsung have been developing low cost VR headsets to use in conjunction with your mobile phone to achieve the immersive VR experience.
Once realisation spread that everyone can experience this new technology at a reasonable cost, the buzz around VR and AR grew. Consumers are now poised and ready for the technology to be integrated into their everyday life. This change in behaviour from consumers has forced manufacturers of these devices to deliver high quality, cost effective products and has also made businesses think about how they can incorporate the technology into their strategies to keep up with consumer demand.
VR in eCommerce
Two decades ago when ecommerce really took off, many big companies like Walmart in the U.S. and BHS in the UK, didn’t pay enough attention to the shift in consumer behaviour. As a result, these huge companies lost millions to smaller online businesses like Amazon and EBay, at the same time. What happened back then should be used as a lesson for today as companies need to consider how they can integrate AR and VR into their business.
Already brands like Ikea are leading the way by offering virtual showrooms for their furniture. It’s a simple idea where consumers can put on a VR headset and be amongst their products. Whether that be a kitchen where consumers can open drawers and change colour schemes or a lounge suite where they can rearrange the layout. Other markets are also jumping on the opportunity such as clothing brand Converse, where using AR technology, consumers can try on digital shoes to see if they like the way they look.
B2B Businesses Using VR
The possibilities are endless, all it takes is a little bit of creative thinking to showcase your products through AR and VR. For B2B businesses the possibilities are the same as the consumer market, albeit less glamorous and maybe less exciting, but still just as relevant. For example, a business such as Reid Brothers UK who sell tools for stainless steel banding or plastic strapping could use AR to showcase the different sizes of the tools. However, a big issue for a lot of companies who use these products is finding tools that can be operated in small spaces in warehouses where the goods are packed. AR could be used to see if a certain tool could be used in a tight space or at an awkward angle. Less fun than trying on a pair of converse but the benefits are exactly the same.
The technology doesn’t stop there. A supermarket in China called Yihaodian opened 1000 digital stores across the country overnight. These digital stores were placed in prime locations like famous tourist landmarks and in front of rival supermarkets. These stores were completely invisible to the naked eye, but open up the Yihaodian ecommerce app on your phone and you can walk around the digital store viewing products like you normally would in a physical shop.
These digital stores added an extra 12% revenue to the supermarkets books. This idea takes the AR concept one step further but is a fantastic way to showcase the power of AR and if nothing else, it creates a whole lot of free advertising because everyone around the world couldn’t stop taking about it.
Yihaodian shows us the power of ecommerce and how the need for having a physical store is becoming less every day. The AR and VR revolution is probably not going to have the same impact the internet did but it will still stir things up. It is so important for businesses to be looking towards the future and start thinking about how they can keep up with what is current and what the consumers demand. The future can either be an exciting opportunity for your business or it can be what drives you out of business. It’s your choice what the future has in store, so choose wisely.