What You Need to Know About Virtual Reality in Retail

By: Agnes Teh Stubbs on February 14, 2020

Retailers are fast recognizing virtual reality as a transformational tool that can create compelling, engaging retail customer experiences.

And if there’s any doubt about its advancing adoption within the retail industry and beyond, the following might persuade any cynic:

  • The use of VR technology in retail and marketing sectors is expected to generate $1.8 billion by 2022, according to ABI Research.

  • The use of head-mounted displays (HMDs) for virtual reality and augmented reality is moving past first-generation devices into moderate adoption. Shipments for HMD sales are expected to ramp up to 52 million by mid-2020, from 27.5 million in 2018.

This article will focus on the importance and benefits of deploying virtual reality in retail and how you can prepare for virtual reality as a retailer.

Benefits of virtual reality in retail

Here are a few ways in which implementing a virtual reality experience can make a difference for retailers.

  • Provides an interactive and personalized customer experience: With VR, retailers can simulate an immersive environment customers wouldn’t otherwise experience. The interactive 3D world provides a compelling real-time experience akin to real life.

  • Reduces returns: VR gives customers the ability to more accurately visualize products which typically leads to confidence in their purchasing decision. Following its deployment of VR, Macy’s reported decreased returns of less than 2%.

  • Collects customer analytics: Virtual reality platforms collect data on how customers interact with products which gives retailers valuable insight into their marketing efforts.

How retailers are using VR

Below are two retailers who are using virtual reality to add value to shopping and employee experiences.

Walmart adopting virtual reality for training employees

The country’s largest private employer is using virtual reality to help identify employees for management positions.

Wearing Oculus Go VR headsets, associates are immersed in real-life situations, such as calming an angry customer or taking new employees on a store tour to test their decision-making, leadership capabilities, and soft skills in challenging situations.

According to Walmart, VR is used as a “touchpoint in [its] selection process” or part of their promotion process. For example, a 12-year veteran employee of a store in Pennsylvania received a 10% raise and promotion to team leader after taking the VR assessment.

In 2017, the retailer rolled out VR headsets to 30 Walmart Training Academies where associates were trained to handle daily tasks and situations, like managing the frozen section, to big shopping events, like Black Friday. Today, VR headsets are in over 4,500 stores and about 800,000 associates have used them for their training.

Business challenge addressed: Employee training in a corporate setting typically involves hours of watching web modules. Through VR, Walmart is able to engage employees by making its training and learning highly realistic and experiential . VR training also increases confidence and retention, as Walmart has found, citing improved test scores by 10 to 15%.

Toms using virtual reality to enhance its in-store shopping experience

Most loyal customers of Toms are aware of the company’s One-for-One giving model, in which it gives a pair of free shoes to a child in a developing country for every pair purchased by a customer.

To bring that to life, Toms developed a 360-degree Virtual Giving Trip campaign to give customers the opportunity to experience first-hand the impact of their purchase.

Upon wearing a Samsung VR headset, customers are transported directly to Peru with panoramic views of schools and kids receiving boxes of shoes. To drive home the impact of their purchases, the narration describes what it’s like to observe the impact a free pair of shoes can make for these kids.

Business challenge addressed: Toms was able to address any doubts or concerns regarding their charity program and create a memorable retail experience by taking customers directly to the scene where the gifts were delivered and allowing customers to view the impact of their gift first-hand.

How you can prepare for virtual reality in retail

As the development of VR becomes more sophisticated, retailers can take the following steps to prepare for the increasing adoption of VR technology that will radically impact future customer experiences.

Analyze your existing online and in-store experience: Before adopting a new technology, ask yourself if your online and brick-and-mortar stores are already working together seamlessly. A strong foundation is needed before adding another technology into the mix.

Determine what value VR will bring for your customers: As fancy as technologies like AR and VR sound, they are only as good as the value they bring to your customer experience. Observe how your customers are currently interacting with your brand, then determine how VR can make those interactions better.

Stay on top of VR trends in your space: Find out what existing VR experiences your customers are already interacting with. Research partnerships with early adopters and tech companies that are already making it happen. Most likely, these companies have knowledge and resources to build and improve on virtual reality experiences.

Once that’s all done, determine an investment to make a case for virtual reality technology. It is no longer whether virtual reality will gain mass adoption but when it will. The retailers that find success in technology implementation are the ones who experiment with technologies like VR become the norm.

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