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Virtual Reality: Changing Shopping Experiences VR is coming to every field near you - has your eCommerce prepared itself?

By Zafar Rais

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There's been a fair bit of buzz around Virtual Reality (VR), which has the ability to transport you to another world. VR commerce, like much of the VR industry, is small and experimental but with massive potential predicted over the next few years.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are going to create a huge splash when they cannonball into our daily lives. They will revolutionize how businesses market themselves, engage with customers and conduct operations. In its recently concluded F8 conference, Facebook unveiled its open source VR camera "Surround 360". We already knew that Facebook is diving into 360-degree video and VR content with Oculus. But now the company has created its own VR camera from scratch, open sourcing it so people who can build their own.

There are a lot of big names in the tech industry working on virtual reality headsets and technological implementations. Facebook and Samsung have invested in this domain heavily and have been the first few to make it available to many in the form of games and experiences. Brands like Gatorade and Budweiser have produced content that showcases just how engaging this format can be.

So, what can those involved in E-commerce do to prepare? The first step is to align your business to the fundamentals of the portal. Brands need to strengthen their storytelling, streamline user experience and reinforce trust and credibility to make the best use of the upcoming trend of virtual reality. This is imperative because no amount of technology can overcome a below average brand objective.

With the growing popularity of VR, there are a few trends predicted across various industries. I've listed out a few that have exponential growth potentials -

· Education:

Virtual reality tours to students are the new fad, walking them through classrooms, libraries, dormitories and campus centers. While we all know that real life tours are important for students choosing a college, the ability to narrow down and skim options on the headset is a boon.

· Music:

A quick search on YouTube will show listings of multiple musical VR experiences available already. The Los Angeles Philharmonic created a music experience that enables viewers to enjoy a beautiful Beethoven performance through VR. Watching a one-dimensional video online is a treat to the ears and eyes, but virtual realityundeniably extends the immersive experience to another level.

· Military:

By delivering an intimate digital experience, students can undergo various military moments firsthand, without risk to themselves or others. The VR exercises could be "computer-generated simulations of a three-dimensional world" and use sensor technology in accessories such as helmets, gloves, and eye-gear. Virtual Reality is also being studied to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Veterans.

· Travel:

Deciding where to holiday and planning leisure or business trips can be overwhelming. What if you could take a Virtual Reality tour of potential vacation spots or figure out where to stay in Kerala's backwaters with a virtual city tour? Travel is one area where we see a breakthrough of practical applications for virtual reality, becoming a marketers and travelers dream come true.

· Healthcare:

Along with potentially treating PTSD in Veterans, there are many medical applications of VR being researched. The Healthcare industry is currently investing large amounts of money in understand the various ways VR can be leveraged to assist medical procedures, practice extensive surgeries and monitor health.

· Sports:

Watching sports in real life, on TV, and mobile devices is an activity many enjoy. But just think about taking that experience a step further with Virtual Reality. What if you can experience a ski slope at the Olympics or a winning pass at the SuperBowl instead of just watching it?

· Retail:

Agnus VR is an Indian start-up that has created a virtual reality headset compatible with phones across manufacturers. As with most of other such devices, they can be used for immersive experiences like viewing movies and 3D gaming. On a related note, Google owned YouTube has also been experimenting 360° video formats that use a smartphone's accelerometer to detect the phone's position, and let it serve as a window to the video world. The Retail industry has begun leveraging experiences through products such as the Virtual Mirrorfor the end consumer, providing an enhanced in store and e-commerce experience.VR is becoming one of the major retail channels to increase profitability and customer engagement. One of the many advantages of VR is that it lets businesses expand their customer base irrespective of the tangibility of their offerings.

The primary hurdle of the moment seems to be the hardware - only a tiny fraction of shoppers actually have their own VR headsets. But with the newfound popularity of Google Cardboard and other low-cost, low-tech solutions that transform smartphones into headsets, expect to witness VR beginning to make the leap in E-commerce in the very near future. Most smartphones manufactured today can support VR by virtue of their processing capabilities and screen resolutions. As phones continue to become more and more sophisticated, VR can also become a part of the sales strategy and offer more to consumers.If seeing is believing, trying it on can seal the deal.

Virtual Reality is working with other technologies to solve a fundamental challenge: integrating feeling – both physical and emotional – into the buying experience; which has been the core of building businesses since ages. In retail terms, it mimics the case of old wine in a fascinating new bottle, with next generation online sellers finding ways to restore the old-school, touch-and-try charm in an innovative, futuristic way. Hence, as a platform of tomorrow, the role of virtual reality technology in retail will continue to expand and cause a revolution in the industry.

Zafar is a Post Graduate in Business Management. He has over a decade of experience in areas of marketing, sales, operations, research and product innovation. After an early start into the digital era, Zafar established a need state for ‘MindShift Interactive’. Through his entrepreneurial venture he promises to deliver Insightful Digital Outreach for businesses and create a presence for brands that is backed by insights, intelligence and impact. Under Zafar’s leadership, MindShift Interactive runs two business verticals, MindShift Digital (Digital Marketing, Influencer Relations & Mobile Technology) and MindShift Metrics (Digital Research and Social Care). Zafar is highly passionate about creating global impact through digital and is an avid traveler.


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