It doesn’t matter who your client is: the existing customer who enters your store, the retail directors who are looking to increase market share, or a potential new market who have yet to be exposed to your store, VR in retail is here to stay.

How do we know that? Well, in 2016, the VR market size in U.S. dollars was 6.1m. Today, that’s grown to 17.8m, and in 2021 it will be 215m. With costs coming down dramatically for even the most expensive of headsets, and technology improving in kind, the largest global retailer to independents can now invest in VR and make smart operational and market growth changes.

 

In the beginning…

…There was Tesco. In 2011, the supermarket giant opened its first virtual store in a south Korean subway enabling commuters to purchase items from a virtual store of over 500 groceries as they passed by with a swipe of their smartphones. Groceries are then delivered direct to their homes.

In 2015, M&S rolled out pop-up virtual reality showrooms in London and Leeds where shoppers could drag and drop homeware into their ideal home.

Tesco VR

Customers are now getting used to seeing VR experiences in their environments and strapping on a headset.

It’s the movement of VR tech from cash-rich boardrooms to area and store level that is crucial to VR’s proliferation in retail, says Unilever CMIO Keith Weed. The FMCG supplier is already shooting virtual-ready content for a number of its bestselling brands. We also found out in February that Walmart has acquired VR start-up Spatialand, signalling its efforts to bring virtual tech to its 6,300 US stores.

 

Pennies on the dollar

According to CEO of Spinview Global, Linda Wade, advancements in VR hold big opportunities for bricks and mortar stores, as a method of understanding shopper behaviour.

Traditionally, setting up eye-tracking software, in-store cameras or even test store environments can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Thanks to VR, this research can be done for a fraction of the cost. As Wade says, “access to the most rudimentary VR now requires only a smartphone, or desktop and a pair of Google Cardboard glasses available for less than £2. That’s a massive cost saving”. With agencies that now specialise in constructing VR retail experiences for grocers, and grocers building their own in-house VR teams, it’s clear that they understand the value in this new technology.

And of course, the better the technology, the better the experience and accuracy. For example, equipped with high-quality, immersive headsets, retailers can see how shoppers move, where they look and what they purchase with an accuracy of 90% plus.

This is helpful in indicating metrics like “shopper value”. This shows how likely a shopper is to walk away from a store if they can’t find the product they are looking for on a shelf.

And why is it important to measure shopper value? In a recent range of in-store merchandising changes by Walmart, shopper value was not considered. According to Kantar Consulting’s John Maingi, Global Product Director, the result was that its record of eight consecutive quarters of growth was hit by a 1.5% dip—$2bn in lost sales.

Engaging new audiences

If you’re a well-established grocer looking to steal market share from a competitor, or you’re an emerging brand investing in new tech to create your audience, “VR is a great way to show off their store online, especially a flagship store”, says Morris-Manuel, Director at Matterport.

VR in retail

According to Matthew Martin, MD at Immersive, the experience can’t simply be throw away. A few years ago, it was enough to produce something “quick and quirky”, Now, retailers need to focus on “building well thought-out experiences that consumers can engage with”.

The pay off is a more engaging experience that can attract new fans to a brand—particularly if your virtual retail experience is their first VR experience.

If you want to find out how we could help you develop and execute a profitable, innovative virtual reality strategy for your retail design, get in touch.

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