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Virtual Reality and Online Shopping: The Revolution of the Future or a Red-Herring?

One of the most talked about rising technologies in recent years has been Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tech.  With nearly every major tech player putting forward an AR or VR solution, VR can seem like a foregone conclusion.  A future for Virtual Reality tech seems even more likely when analyzing major VR-related acquisitions, the most notable of which is the acquisition of Oculus, the manufacturers of the pioneering “Oculus Rift” technology.  While Oculus became famous in the public eye for its moves within the digital games industry, the application of their technology expanded much further, including inventive applications for virtual tours, virtual shopfronts and more.

With so much buzz arising from Virtual Reality, companies working in eCommerce need to evaluate how it will impact their future.  Will companies that neglect to adopt VR implementations be left in the dust, or will it prove to be a costly investment with little payout?  The answer, as is often the case in the digital world, seems more and more to be, “it depends.”  While the answer isn’t cut-and-dry by any means, there are ideas worth considering for each individual business.  This article will explore how a company can better determine if an implementation of Virtual Reality is in their future.

The Soul of Virtual Reality

If you ask people to describe what they think of when they think of VR, you’re likely to get one of two responses: The Star Trek holodeck, and an iconic photo of a crowd of convention-goers wearing bulky goggles.  While the second image is a literal photograph of a real event, when considering the soul of virtual reality, those who imagine the holodeck might actually be closer to the mark.

Virtual Reality isn’t just about visuals, despite the focus on more and more advanced (or affordable, in the case of Google’s cardboard-box VR solution) headgear.  One of the core challenges of developing VR software is avoiding disorientation and confusion on the part of the user.  Our senses are all tied together whether we like it or not, and this fact means that VR has to find a sweet spot between engaging one sense too much or not enough at all.

One of the best examples of a VR implementation hitting that sweet spot is an experimental VR game that requires a player to rescue a stuffed kitten sitting at the end of a wooden plank.  The headset displays a digital plank and an animated kitten – both of which are teetering over the edge of a skyscraper.  The combination of the tactile feedback of the wooden plank and the visuals creates an experience that leaves players of the experimental game breathless and shocked at the surprising reality of the experience.

At its core, Virtual Reality is not just visual, it’s experiential, and that makes a huge impact on whether it will be viable for a specific business online.

Applying VR to ECommerce

If you’re thinking about whether VR will be a meaningful investment to your business, it’s important to determine whether you can offer that multiple-sense-engaging experience that pushes VR from being an inconvenient to watch video into a breathtaking and immersive event.  VR implementation is pricey, and, for some companies, it simply isn’t going to bring enough to the table to justify the investment.

At the same time, there are most definitely applications which are likely to give customers an unforgettable experience to the degree that the investment will pay for itself and more.  Consider the following example: Imagine a company whose business involves creating designer scented candles.  Many companies already offer customers the ability to request scent samples through the mail, often for free.  The candle company could very easily implement VR tech in a meaningful way by sending a code alongside their scent samples that would allow a customer with VR goggles to access a creatively-designed “environment” which would reflect the sample scents they ordered.  A wood-fire scented candle could be tied to a VR den with a digital fireplace or a campfire beneath a starry sky.  It’s easy to see how such an application would leave a lasting memory on a customer and would likely encourage them to return.

The choice to implement Virtual Reality technology has to be measured carefully by most companies.  A company selling construction tools may not be able to get the same return on investment that the aforementioned candle company would be able to get.  Likewise, a travel company is likely to be able to utilize VR in more profitable manners than a company selling high-quality wrapping paper.  Being able to offer digital experiences that engage multiple levels beyond visual is key to making VR something more than just expensive video.

If you’d like to analyze your business for the implementation of VR or would like to begin constructing a VR implementation, contact us at www.nixa.ca today.  We believe in helping companies like yours navigate the frontiers of technology so you can maximize your success!

At Nixa, we are passionate about design and new technologies. We would be glad to share our passion with you.

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