Using virtual reality applications to create unique user experiences

By Elisa Silverman

| Retail

Consumers and companies have been looking to create virtual reality experiences since the first 3-D movie, The Power of Love, came out in 1922. And society as a whole has been waiting for the “killer” virtual reality applications era to begin. This long-awaited era may be closer than you think. In fact, according to TechCrunch, Digi-Capital forecasts that the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market could reach $150 billion in revenue by 2020.

A fair portion of virtual reality applications are and will be in the games and entertainment arena, but a number of companies are already finding creative ways to use virtual reality apps to improve their customer or buyer experience and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The difference between VR and AR

Recently, car brands have been using VR and AR in a variety of ways. Audi’s Virtual Reality Experience app allows prospective buyers to test-drive cars. During this experience, the user is immersed in the virtual world of being behind the wheel. The app even allows the driver to personalize the model to his or her specifications before taking it out for a virtual spin.

In contrast, Ferrari has a showroom AR app for customers. Shoppers can select certain features in the app to get a visual picture of what they’d look like on the car model in front of them. The customization options cover everything from the paint job to the rims. As an AR app, it’s augmenting what the buyer is experiencing in the real world, as opposed to drawing him or her into a virtual world.

While the two car makers take different approaches, it’s clear that both companies are setting themselves apart in the auto marketplace by using technology to provide a truly personal buying experience.

Travel and real estate: Natural VR arenas

In industries where the experience is the product, it’s not surprising that VR apps are already taking hold. For instance, Matterport, a real estate agency, developed an app for agents and interior designers that creates virtual worlds out of real spaces. And, in Australia, Start VR created an app that allows real estate developers to place prospective buyers inside a building or an apartment that hasn’t yet been built.

In addition, a variety of travel companies are offering a VR experience to their buyers and customers:

  • Qantas, the first airline to bring VR to its fliers, provides passengers with the technology they need to tour through parts of Australia and familiarize themselves with Sydney’s airport.
  • Azamara Cruises and Saga Travel both use a VR app to let customers preview cruise destinations.
  • Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is developing VR content for its B2B market, not just individual customers. The company is producing VR videos that its sales teams can use to help event planners and travel agents visualize the experience of their specific properties.

But virtual reality apps aren’t just for the luxury market. In-flight VR actually envisions an app that can take a passenger from the overstuffed economy class to the first class without ever leaving his or her seat. And DIY retailer Lowe’s has a Holoroom Virtual Room app that allows store visitors to work with Lowe’s staff as they design their remodeling project. Users start by selecting different attributes like dimensions and flooring. Then, they decorate. Afterward, the app allows customers to walk through their creations in order to get a 3-D sense of the space and their choices.

VR for all budgets

Overall, it’s clear that virtual reality apps are expected to have a great effect on the general retail industry. In WalkerSands Communications’ 2015 Future of Retail Study, 66 percent of respondents claimed that they would be interested in trying virtual shopping, and another 35 percent claimed that they would be open to shopping more online if this technology was made available to them.

So it’s clear that shoppers are ready for any retailer that decides to step into the VR app space, no matter the sphere. Yihaodian, a major online grocer in China, has 1,000 virtual stores that shoppers can visit all over the country. Only customers who have the AR app on their phone can see these virtual stores, which are otherwise invisible. The app allows shoppers to walk through virtual aisles and enjoy the in-store experience from their mobile screen.

Eventually, virtual reality applications will be necessary to provide the sort of customer service that shoppers will come to expect. Until then, VR apps are an exciting way for a company to position its brand as an innovation leader in a crowded marketplace.

Written By

Elisa Silverman

Technology Writer

Elisa Silverman is a freelance writer, with a professional background in law and technology. She writes for technology companies and professional service firms. In addition, Elisa writes other types of B2B marketing content that help them establish authority and foster relationships…

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