V-Commerce The next Frontier of Retail

Technology advancements in e-commerce have allowed customers to interact with stores online these past few years more than ever before.

Amongst many high-tech features, we’ve also seen better checkout systems, seamless integration of secure payment providers, high-resolution zoomable images and video, and the employment of many other avenues to help bring as much of the in-store experience to life, online.

For example, men’s online shoe retailer Oliver Sweeney uses video in its “About Us” page to emulate what in-store staff would actually tell a customer who walks in and wants to know more about the brand and how or where its shoes are made.

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oliver sweeney virtual reality online retail
Image Source: Oliver Sweeney

 

peter alexander virtual reality
Image source: Peter Alexander

Likewise, Peter Alexander’s webstore uses a nifty moving timeline to tell the tale of its founder and creative director, and to be honest, in a way that’s probably much better than what in-store staff would be able to. It’s features such as these that bring depth to a brand in a new and immersive way. After all, a picture paints a thousand words doesn’t it, and as for video… well that surely goes a few notches up from a picture. So naturally, retailers are looking for the next best thing. This is where experiential reality comes in.

My key takeaway for the industry this year is that there has been a seismic shift in retailers thinking, in terms of their online and offline offering to be more than just about the sale. An increase in online and in-store events, education and engagement is a kind of experiential reality that is more consumer centric than ever before.

So, what’s going to be the next best thing in technological advancement for retailers? V-commerce. Virtual Reality (VR) in retail offers much more than just a bit of fun or an expensive gimmick. VR provides interactivity and offers an experience to consumers on a high level. VR is going to evolve rapidly in 2017 and retail is going to be a major part of that journey.

Some online retailers, like bathroom and laundry specialists The Blue Space, are using VR in a complementary way, not only sell its products, but to better service its customers, help ensure they are happy and confident with their purchase and in turn reduce cost of returns.

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Image source: The Blue Space

The company will launch into VR territory early next year, which will replicate its customers’ own kitchens or bathrooms (including dimensions), and allow them to see what a range of packages would actually look like in their own space.

“It simply takes the hassle out of shopping for a kitchen, bathroom or laundry,” says The Blue Space’s managing director, Josh Mammoliti. “You can really see what each choice you make will look like in your house. You can ‘live in it’ before you buy. It helps with choice, saves time and reduces the risk of buying something you don’t actually like.”

Mammoliti says one of the main objectives of The Blue Space’s venture into VR technology is to make it easier for customers to build and design their own bathroom or laundry, and be happy with their choice, which also reduces the instance of customer returns. The company says its customers will eventually be able to buy through VR technology, which is currently being tested out.

While a virtual experience of buying through a VR headset may not appeal to all, or inspire some of the die-hard fans of the traditional in-store shopping experience, I think it will however appeal to the younger generations, who may actually prefer it as a mid-way between the online and offline world of retail. It could well insight digital curiosity, and as they virtually try on a garment or virtually view that couch in their living room – it’s the step before actually going in-store to pick up the item. In a nutshell, bricks and clicks is about to have a wonderful new intermediary.

Every consumer will not necessarily need his or her own headset though. Take fashion retail brands Topshop and Dior, who are embracing VR technology in-store to increase its profits and scope, which spells major potential to revolutionise the way in which fashion items are marketed and sold.

At Topshop’s flagship London store, based in Oxford Circus, some lucky customers were given VR headsets to witness the AW14 catwalk shows. Broadcasting the runway with a 360-degree view allowed for first row access next to celebs like Vogue editor Anna Wintour and glamazons like Kate Moss. How’s that for instant garment appeal, before you even see the collection, let alone up-close in-hand.

topshop online retail virtual reality v-commerce
Topshop, Oxford Circus, London

Aussie pureplay The Blue Space will allow customers to use its VR technology by opening VR pop-up booths in selected high traffic locations around Australia, taking out the traditional requisite to have a physical product, whilst giving way for an easier and more scalable showroom setup.

There is, however a growing number of brands who are tapping into VR technology globally and looking towards the future where customers will own their own VR headsets and use the technology at home. For example, Dior and online women’s accessories label Rebecca Minkoff, are creating their own stylish versions of the VR headset, so consumers will want to own a pair and use them in their shopping journey. Whilst the Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Mikoff, comments that VR could well replace the “classic” e-commerce platform, I do not believe it will offer any threat.

VR could certainly be a nice compliment to the world of e-commerce, which has rapidly become a global mainstream way to shop, and there’s no doubt that 2017 will see more and more brands, retailers and even venues uptake this technology to not only market their products, but also sell.

Earlier this year eBay and Myer teamed up to launch the world’s first virtual reality department store, with Myer’s chief digital and data officer Mark Cripsey commenting that he didn’t see the app as a threat to physical or online shopping.

When you really start to think about it, the opportunities that VR may bring are still untapped. This is only just the beginning. I don’t think VR will ever compete with e-commerce or the in-store experience, but rather compliment it nicely. It will offer retailers another dimension to sell, and likely result in a more rewarding shopping experience for the customer, who can virtually try before they buy, or see then buy.

The only thing that perhaps bothers me about VR is the potential to make us lazy and have an adverse effect on our ability to imagine. What happened to that? Imagination is what has breathed life into the work of the world’s most creative geniuses, like Da Vinci and Einstein. Imagination is what sets the stylists apart from the rest, the artists and interior designers from non-artists and non-interior designers. It’s imagination. Imagination inspires innovation, yet it’s innovation that’s replacing imagination, to an extent. Anyhow that’s my two cents. All in all, v-commerce presents an exciting frontier to the world of retail and e-commerce.

 

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