One day, in the not too distant future, virtual reality will be able to eliminate, or at least blur, the limitations of space and time. For retailers, the reality of this opens a world of possibilities.
Testing Store Layouts
Virtual store technology is making it possible for many brands to test store layouts and better understand the trends of consumers. Using virtual stores, they can study the flow of consumers and see what featured displays work best. These insights may eventually make it much easier for retailers to work with commercial real estate developers to better plan their stores and iron out any design and layout conflicts prior to development.
Introducing "Mixed Commerce"
In addition to reducing build-out issues prior to construction, the use of virtual reality in retail stores will also impact the size and inventory that some retailers will have to worry about. Virtual reality can cut down on in-store inventory by providing virtual exhibits of products. So enters the phrase “mixed commerce”, a term coined by Marxent, a virtual reality and augmented reality app development company, that refers to a retail format where some physical product in stores is replaced by 3D, virtual products.
Now, obviously not all products can be displayed virtually, but a significant amount can be experienced in this format. Subsequently, a need for less inventory ultimately means a need for less space. So for commercial real estate developers, this may mean tailoring a new real estate development towards smaller, and maybe more adaptive formats. For retailers, this may mean less overhead and increased profits in the long run.
And in regards to immersive retail experiences, virtual reality is creating new ways for consumers to truly understand their potential purchases. Retail sectors such as home improvement or home furnishings, for example, will allow consumers to see what new cabinets, fixtures, or a new couch may look like in their home. Lowe's is one of those retailers using virtual reality to create a design and visualization tool enabling consumers to envisiob the room of their dreams. The technology can move a customer’s imagination without even having to leave the store. This becomes a very powerful tool for companies vying for your dollars.
What’s the market saying?
But just how popular have virtual reality devices been since their commercial adoption in 2016? Companies like Oculus and HTC have been fairly mum on sales totals. However, Sony released the sales figures for their Playstation VR headsets, reporting that they’ve sold 915,000 units in its first four months on the market. And while these numbers are still somewhat impressive, it equals less than 2% attach rate to its 53+ million PS4s sold. Additionally, Facebook’s Oculus division just cut pricing on its Oculus Rift headset in hopes of spurring disappointing sales.
So while the jury may still be out on the demand for virtual reality, push from the retail sector may play a vital role in its future growth. For retailers, the insight that this technology could provide can help reduce project costs and retailer’s overhead, as well as create truly immersive retail experiences for consumers. These are benefits that can’t be ignored and will eventually push retailers to invest in this type of technology.