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Function Over Fiction: True Product Immersion and Interaction in VR

VR/AR Practice Lead

April 18, 2017

Virtual reality used to be pigeonholed as the stuff of fiction and relegated to the gaming world or science fiction movies. With the rapid-fire pace at which VR technology is evolving, it’s becoming glaringly clear that its use and consumption are becoming more mainstream. Indeed, VR is shifting away from fiction—and becoming a functional means to entice, entertain and engage people in their day-to-day lives.

One compelling example of this shift is in retail. VR is a hot topic in the retail industry and promises to reshape the very way companies market their products and services, and the way consumers buy and use them.

VR gives brands and retailers the opportunity to deliver personalized customer experiences, enhance customer service, and differentiate themselves from the competition. Today’s consumers are constantly being bombarded with sales information, which is oftentimes irrelevant to needs, generic and un-engaging. For retailers to succeed in hypercompetitive markets, they need to up the ante and find new ways to create experiences that immerse consumers in the very products and services they are actually shopping for.

And VR is paving the way to achieve these goals

In the last couple of years, our VR lab has been hard at work developing environments that bring consumers a new level of product immersion, superseding any former product interaction. We have found that exploring products in VR often outperforms in-store demonstrations as the technology helps customers to visualize and virtually use products before making the decision to buy.

By looking at and manipulating products in VR, consumers can make decisions based on the emotional response they have to the product in its native environment. Space, volume and sound no longer need to be imagined.

This is a game-changer.

Functional Interactions Better than Fiction in Showroom Applications

Here’s a concrete example. Recently, we created a full-immersion VR simulation of a camping trip, complete with a bonfire in front of a tent. Wearing a VR headset, consumers could walk around the campground, and go inside the tent they wanted to buy. They were able to gain an understanding of the size and shape of the tent, complete with little windows and a door to peek out of.

Most of the consumers actually “ducked” in real life to enter the tent door, simulating the “real” camping experience. They could take a seat inside the tent and lie down to determine whether they liked the tent’s size. Even more fascinating: consumers could play Mother Nature and change the outdoor weather to rain or other weather conditions!

If a specific tent was not to their liking, consumers could then switch the scene and view an entirely different product (i.e.: a different tent, in a different colour, size or shape). They could also change the scenery and try out the camping simulation in a desert, at the peak of a mountain, or deep in an evergreen forest.

This is a stark contrast to sitting in a tent in a sports store with other shoppers walking by glaring at you and mall music playing in the background.

Which sales context, in your view, is most inspiring—and likely to generate a sale?

In this example, we did create fictional environments, but the goal was far from fictional. We designed the consumer experience around a story that maximized the product context.

We give context to products in VR so that consumers can test them out for their intended purpose.

VR has a big role to play in retail as it’s a highly powerful sales tool when you put function before fiction.

Function Removes Uncertainty

VR is the ultimate demonstration tool. It is the only technology that enables consumers to be completely immersed in an environment in which they can use a product or service. Consumer get an accurate representation of what they are thinking of buying—before they buy. This is particularly important for products or services that require a great amount of imagination (a leap of faith, so to speak) before a purchase.

Think interior design

Have you ever tried to imagine what your kitchen could look like based on a small tile sample? Did you ever spent hours at a home renovation store, desperately trying to figure out which paint colour to choose based on a 2-inch colour swatch?

In home renovation and design, VR is indispensable for helping consumers see a finished product. They can enter a three-dimensional, 360-degree immersive environment in which they can choose not only the wall colours and tile pattern before buying but also the sink fixture, patio door and patio furniture. At last, consumers can have a “real” idea of what their living spaces will look once complete. The end result? Consumers mitigate the risk of making a wrong decision—without the hefty investment.

In other words, aside from entertaining and engaging customers, VR is a tool that gives them plenty of confidence when making a buying decision. This, in turn, helps to increase customer loyalty and repeat business.

There’s no other technology that can do this.

Emphasis on Function Makes Buying Fun

When consumers see an accurate representation of a product, and are able to play with it, it becomes an incredibly fun way to shop! And if you can delight customers, you can almost guarantee they’ll be back again.

Imagine real estate developers giving clients a virtual reality tour before the unit is built? Developers, promoters, and homebuyers alike can experience the space, as opposed to just imagining it on a piece of paper. “Hmm,” says the client. “I don’t like that kitchen cupboard and tile!” As she uses a controller to change the tile colour and kitchen cabinet style, her shoulders physically drop; she relaxes. “This is what I want,” she says. The oohs and ahhs are nearly endless.

That just doesn’t happen when you’re looking at a 3-inch square sample or confusing two-dimensional interior floor plan.

The fact is, not a lot of people have the capacity to imagine the end product. This is where VR steps in.

A Revolutionary Tool for Trade Shows

Imagine what a construction manufacturer could do with VR at a tradeshow? We met one recently that told us he travels with 40,000 pounds of bricks to each trade show his company exhibits at around the world.

40,000 pounds. A VR experience could put an end to this burden he carries. Literally.

VR has the potential to complement, or in some cases to replace, product brochures and catalogs. While an initial investment in a VR experience is required to create the overall experience, imagine the cost savings! No more need for catalogs, marketing material and even large demo units, such as cars or heavy machinery.

VR also opens plenty of opportunities for cross-marketing. Once you have everything modeled in 3D, you can use the digital material for any type of marketing or social media strategy from this day forward. This greatly reduces the number of publications and printed material you need, and dramatically decreases the need for floor space. VR is indeed the ideal tool that brands need to consider for a holistic, omni-channel marketing strategy.

VR for function is here. Once you try it, you may never want to go back to “flat” shopping, ever again.

So how do you get started in implementing a comprehensive VR strategy into your upcoming marketing initiatives? Get back to brass tacks and above all consider what resources you currently have on your team that can help design stellar end user experiences and understand the nitty gritty of virtual 3D spaces. For more tips on what type of designers you need to make the leap into VR, find out our take on how your creative team can become VR designers.

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