Feedback Loup: Virtual Reality for Retail

Feedback Loup: Virtual Reality for Retail

Virtual Reality, which remains a high-end tech gadget that has yet to gain mainstream traction, is often misunderstood in terms of the span of its use cases. As we mentioned in The Future of Retail, VR will allow consumers to experience products in a more lifelike way before purchasing, which will lead to greater customer satisfaction and fewer returns. Brand experience is another benefit of VR in retail.

If your brand is how people experience your company, then it’s no surprise that VR is a helpful branding tool. VR is the most experiential computing platform. Traditional mediums like television, print advertisements, and social media posts reach a large audience but are inefficient (this is why you might see the same ad every commercial break), whereas VR gives brands an opportunity to immerse a consumer in their world. To see for ourselves one example of a retail VR experience, we visited the Arc’teryx store in Minneapolis.

Using an Oculus Rift, we watched Hut Magic, a VR film that immerses you in the world of Arc’teryx-wearing backcountry skiers staying in a remote alpine hut and skiing uncharted terrain in British Columbia. The film teleports you to the middle of nowhere, portrays a spirit of adventure and associates Arc’teryx products with that spirit. You also get the sense that their gear is built for extreme conditions. If only slightly, we left feeling more excited about the Arc’teryx brand. And dying to go skiing in BC.

Fun but gimmicky. We had to find a store clerk, sign a waiver, and click through some menus before putting on a headset (which still feels odd in public). Ultimately, we’re skeptical on the use of VR in retail stores. Virtual reality makes sense for immersive, experiential shopping at home – and brands will get on board. However, stores are built for retailers to connect and consult with their guests. VR doesn’t facilitate or leverage the retailer’s core reason for being.

Stores are built for retailers to connect and consult with their guests. VR doesn’t facilitate or leverage the retailer’s core reason for being.

If VR headsets were common household items, virtual commerce could gain traction as a way to shop in virtual stores tailored to a company’s liking and your buying habits. Users would be able to try on clothes or see what furniture would look like before buying it, ultimately boosting online sales. Today, however, give the price tag on a VR system, in-store VR makes sense. The store manager we talked to said it drove in more foot traffic simply out of curiosity after seeing someone with a headset on by the window. Also, after an in-store experience, customers are able to try on gear they saw in the video, or talk to a sales expert, but we didn’t get the sense that the VR movie was driving meaningful sales.

In the meantime, some companies are using VR to build their brands in new ways. For example, TOMS put together a “virtual giving trip” video. The viewer visits Peru to see first-hand the joy on children’s faces when they are given the shoes that TOMS customers helped make possible. TOMS brand tells a story, and VR is a great medium to bring that story to life. Other brands from The North Face to Lowe’s have invested in VR. Unfortunately, until VR breaks out of its current position as a high-end entertainment gadget, these use cases will be limited.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Retail, Virtual Reality