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4 Ways Virtual Reality Apps Are Shaping the Holiday Shopping Season

Liz Alton
November 26, 2018

3 minute read

Virtual reality (VR) apps are adding flare to the way shoppers make purchases this holiday season. Retailers are rolling out VR in a variety of use cases, from VR-powered shopping to training seasonal staff. Many VR initiatives are still nascent, but consumers are eager for more. According to eMarketer Retail, 42% of customers feel that emerging technologies like VR improve the customer experience.

Experimenting with VR during the holidays may yield unexpected benefits. “Like all new technologies, the direct economic impact for shopkeepers will be minimal this year, but first-movers will benefit from tons of free publicity that comes with being a pioneer,” said Daniel Levine, Director of the trendspotting Avant Guide Institute, in an interview for this article.

Here’s a closer look at four ways VR will impact retail during the 2018 holidays.

Virtual reality is powering “V-Commerce” through virtual showrooms

“For retailers, the killer app for VR is the virtual store or showroom that enables shoppers to see themselves in a Vstore (virtual store) or the cockpit of a car in a virtual auto dealership,” Levine told us.

Brands are launching a range of applications, from fully immersive VR stores to augmented reality apps that allow customers to test makeup.

Virtual showrooms remove the risk from large projects

One area where VR stands out is high-priced categories. “Virtual reality is accelerating purchase decisions in home furnishings and accessories. Customers can easily see the item in their own rooms, get a sense of scale/color, accelerating the browsing, selection, and decision making much faster. Brands are seeing a lift in confidence on buying high-ticket items, driving increased revenue for home furnishings and accessories,” said Kerri Konik, CEO and Senior Brand Strategist at InspireFire, in an interview for this piece.

Some large retailers are embracing VR experiences. Macy’s has partnered with Marxent a 3D design and visualization company, to create a VR furniture experience. Users design a layout with selected pieces of furniture, and then use a VR headset to immerse themselves in the space. A press release reveals that Macy’s VR-influenced furniture sales have increased by more than 60%, while their non-VR furniture sales and returns dropped to just 2% in three pilot stores.

Optimizing holiday store and aisle layouts

VR is also improving store operations. Shelf and floor space are at a premium during the holidays, and designers can spend endless hours optimizing displays and product placement. Virtual reality tools such as ShopperMX let retailers design, test, and refine planograms virtually. By envisioning the store and aisle layout digitally, retailers can do everything from see how displays will look without physical mockups to gather analytics on shopper response.

Scaling up employee training

Getting seasonal staff up to speed is an ongoing challenge during the holiday shopping crush. In an interview with CNBC, Derek Belch, who is helping Walmart implement virtual reality training for its associates, said, “the device will reach employees such as cashiers, janitors, and mid-level managers, who do not have the opportunity to attend Walmart Academies.” Strivr is being used in part to help prepare employees for large crowds demanding help during the Black Friday rush.

Virtual reality apps are changing the shopper customer experience by streamlining the in-store experience and making it easier to experiment with products. A few retailers have big things planned for the 2018 holiday season. These experiments paint a powerful roadmap of what we can expect to see in the years ahead.

Liz Alton
Liz Alton
Liz Alton is a writer and content strategist specializing in B2B technology, digital marketing, and the customer experience. Her clients include creative agencies, Fortune 500 brands, and venture-backed startups.
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