Back to The Present
Remember when you used to go to the shoe store? Do you remember what you used to do there? Let me give you a refresher: You would slowly make your way through the store looking at the different styles. Eventually the right combination of shapes, colors, and form would catch your eye. You would stop, pick up a shoe and look at it. Then you would hail down an employee, much in the same manner that you attempt to get the attention of a server who seems to be avoiding bringing the check, and tell them you would like to try on these shoes.
They say, “Sure, what size?”
You say, “Eleven.”
They disappear into a secret vault of rubber and leather footwear and get the shoe for you. You try them on, and they fit. You buy them. The next day you wear them for the first time and feel rather good about yourself. You just experienced something. Your experience took place in what we like to call reality. For one reason or another, whether it is because of viruses (I’m looking at you COVID-19), widespread agoraphobia, or the fear of roadside bandits, shopping in reality is fading away behind the rolling clouds of virtual reality (VR) shopping.
So, What Are the Benefits and Who Is Doing It?
One of the best things about Virtual Reality shopping is the power of immediate transportation. Let us say you have always dreamt of seeing the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. You have heard that the best way to experience this is by taking a cruise, but you are unsure. By using VR goggles, Carnival Cruise allows the user to see just what a cruise would be like. Pretty great for someone who is having a difficult time deciding to spend their hard-earned cash on such extravagance.
Another important aspect of VR shopping is the ability for the home improvement shopper to visit a virtual showroom of their house. Places like Lowe’s and IKEA allow the user to create a mock-up of their home and experience what the walls would look like if they were, say, blue, and how different kinds of furniture or lighting would impact the overall design. As they “walk” through their rooms the VR shopper can add and subtract accessories and move furniture around ala Harry Potter with the swipe of a wand. Nice to have this option prior to painting the walls and deciding that fluorescent green just is not your idea of calming.
How would you like to test drive a nice car without worrying about rear ending someone? Now with VR test driving, companies like Lexus, Nissan, and Ford give customers the ability to take a spin around the block without leaving their seat. This allows potential car buyers to see how speedy a car is, what different features it has, and to get a feel for the interior. Whilst taking the pressure off the customer who cannot help but shake that icky feeling of discomfort that comes along with driving an unfamiliar vehicle.
The possibilities of VR shopping are endless. Amazon has opened VR kiosks in certain malls in India and given users the chance to view new products, get more information about said products, and test certain attributes of the items. VR technology also puts another nail in the coffin of brick and mortar stores by fulfilling the need that consumers have of interacting with a product before purchasing it. It’s not quite reality, but it might be enough to keep people from driving down the street to their local Target, getting angry at the aggressive soccer mom who stole their parking spot, then stepping in gum on the way in, only to find that the 6-cube organizer shelf is once again sold out.
Back to Reality
The goal is for these companies to make more money and if VR is going to increase sales, then VR is here to stay. It allows for a heightened experience from the comfort of the consumers’ home, but also helps to create an enhanced experience instore. It does not matter which store—whether online, virtual, or reality—the big boss sucking down cigars and scotch wants you in their store. It just depends on how you would like to experience the products that you are going to throw your money at; is a photo enough, or perhaps a virtual product, or do you need the real thing? The future of shopping is upon us, but for now it is still tangled with reality. It is up to us to choose.