The world was doing well when suddenly a major pandemic started shutting everything down. Right from schools, colleges, and offices to malls, shopping complexes, and retail stores, every door was bound to be shut down. Day by day the deadly virus kept taking over the world. The lives of billions of people came into danger and GDPs crashed sharply, every company had to face major losses. Though 2020 was a tough year, the situation is improving all over.
Amidst all the negativity and loneliness, there is one thing that has helped us pass this difficult situation through, and that is technology. Virtual Reality or VR is an intelligent technology that has been in remarkable use these days. VR has been influencing human lives for more than 60-70 years, however, the pandemic has brought VR to a much bigger platform by introducing it in industries like e-commerce. The e-commerce sector has opened its virtual stores and is using virtual reality techniques to attract its clients.
Understanding Virtual Reality
The e-commerce sector has always been open to opportunities that can help its business reach greater heights. Technology is no less than an opportunity because it always comes in with something good that in turn influences a number of people around the world. Virtual Reality, though not invented lately, has become much more popular than ever in the pandemic era.
Virtual reality is a computerized technology wherein simulated environments are created that can be explored and viewed from all angles. As the name suggests, Virtual Reality creates a virtual scenario for the user to make him believe he is moving, touching, and exploring his surroundings in reality. These virtual sets are made with high-technology computer software which gives an immersive experience to the users.
To shift the user’s focus totally towards this virtual world, special VR headsets are used. VR headsets are head-mounted gears or devices that when worn show images, lightings, and sounds in a way that the user feels completely departed from the real world and enters the virtual world. VR headsets comprise a stereoscopic display, stereo sound (reacts differently for both the ears), and head-motion-tracking sensors. All of these techniques are aligned perfectly to make you feel that you are living in that virtual world. Good quality headsets have devices like magnetometers, gyroscopes, accelerometers, etc inbuilt so as to change graphics and sounds according to the movements made by the user.
How does VR work?
We all have experienced virtual reality or have read about it. Right from its name to its game, everything feels so fascinating, exciting, and elastic that we become totally indulged with the technology, isn’t it? But did you ever think how a simple headset and some software can transport you from your bedroom to a beach, shopping mall, or a gaming set?
Well, there is a whole lot of technology and programming that goes behind designing a real-life virtual environment. In simple words, VR designers try to design their sets keeping in mind the basic rules of perception that we humans use in our daily lives. The way we interact with our surroundings, the way we hear, talk and visualize things are used by these designers to create an authentic copy of the real world. Some of the crucial components that help make VR a success are Field of View, Frame Rate, sound effects, spatial audio, head tracking, etc.
How is VR different from AR?
Some terms are from the same league but are slightly different from each other. Virtual reality and Augmented reality are currently trending these days. However, people remain confused between the two.
Virtual reality is a technology where a separate simulated environment is created and viewers enter the virtual world in real-time. To experience virtual reality a VR headset is a mandatory gear that blocks the actual sight of the person and introduces the online world. Augmented Reality on the other hand doesn’t remove anything from the person’s view but adds virtual elements in the live screen to give the person a feel of viewing that item as if in front. AR is typically conducted through smartphones or tablets.
Why Virtual Reality?
The world is evolving every day to make everything easier and better for all. Like all business sectors, the E-commerce sector is also in the race to win its client’s hearts and serve them with the WOW factor. VR is a technology that has been used in gaming sectors, architecture fields, and for teaching and training purposes, but introducing them to businesses has shown tremendous results, too.
While people were locked in their houses for more than a year, online shopping stores became a helping hand for all. Right from groceries to apparel, makeup, accessories, and essentials, people were all over the internet. At this point, some of the major e-commerce players thought of introducing Virtual Reality or VR to their stores to provide their customers a much better and enhanced personal experience while shopping.
Today, VR acts as a bridge between the physical world and the virtual world and is transforming the future of the e-commerce industry at a faster pace. Virtual reality is taking online shopping and e-commerce business to the next level by creating a virtual scenario of an actual shopping store for a buyer. The immersive experience combined with the touch and feel factor that virtual reality offers have totally changed clients’ perception of online shopping.
VR and AR have to an extent removed all the issues a buyer could face while shopping for his favorite items online. For instance, if a person is searching for a 4-seater dining table, he might not feel convinced by just looking at its pictures on an online retail store, for obvious reasons. However, using the VR technique the person can roam around that online furniture store, touch and feel his table’s texture and dimensions, and can even visualize how the furniture would look in his house. Now that a customer has evaluated a product from all angles and perspectives it is almost done for him to make a purchase, freely and happily.
Applications of VR for E-Commerce
Looking at the emerging trend of virtual reality, e-commerce players are dedicating their days and nights to getting their online stores updated with the same. Virtual reality has been easing the process of online shopping for all users and is thus filling the gap between virtual and physical worlds.
Here are some of the major applications of Virtual Reality in the E-commerce sector:
- Virtual shopping stores
One of the most popular and useful applications of virtual reality technology is a virtual showroom. A virtual showroom is nothing but a digitized online store that has been specially designed to provide a full browsing experience for online shoppers. Sometimes they are the exact copy of a physical store for the customers to feel they are presenting themselves in the shop.
The use of virtual reality in online stores have changed all buyers’ experience and have taken e-commerce business to newer heights. Virtual shopping stores are programmed in a way that the buyer feels he is actually roaming around the shop while just sitting on his couch. Moreover, some brands are also choosing high-tech virtual reality programming through which customers can meet friends and shop together in real-time. A popular article that was published by MarketWatch in October 2020 mentioned a technology called the “Wormhole” that creates a scenario for group shopping by the use of avatars.
A virtual store offers much more than any customer could expect from an e-commerce site. There are real-time fashion consultants or relationships managers that are available for the client’s help. Moreover, by the use of Augmented reality, a person can visualize how a product fits in his own house, whereas VR helps him to check on the other characteristics of a product. Virtual stores are created with a vision to offer satisfaction to the clients as they promise a seamless virtual shopping experience.
- Virtual Try-On ( VTO)
Virtual try-on is again one of the major ways the e-commerce sector is using virtual reality technology. In simple words, virtual try-on is similar to Instagram filters. The way your Instagram or Snapchat filters change your pictures’ contrast, tones, warmth, background, etc, the virtual try-on feature arranges the piece of clothing, accessory, or footwear on your body part before you buy it.
The virtual try-on feature is one of the major additions that have helped boom the e-commerce industry like anything. Virtual try-on generally makes use of augmented reality (AR) and can be availed by literally everyone who has a smartphone. Under this feature, a customer will just have to open his camera and the product will appear applied to his body, virtually. For instance, websites that sell contact lenses or glasses offer the virtual try-on feature through which a customer can try his favorite lenses, glasses, or sunglasses and choose accordingly. The best part of this technology is that it reduces the product return or cancellation numbers.
Despite the customer’s point of view, virtual try-on also plays a major role in guiding manufacturing companies to create and improvise their products according to the customer demands to ultimately have a satisfied customer.
- Improves the in-store experience
Unlike a physical shopping mart that engages and keeps you refreshed throughout your shopping by setting an inviting ambiance, perfect lighting, and soothing music, doing this in an online store is near to impossible. However, e-commerce brands are using VR in all possible ways to attract their potential customers.
Most of the virtual stores today use VR to display their products in appealing virtual environments to showcase how they can be used. Moreover, brands use virtual reality to build extravagant aspirational worlds where they fit their products and invite the customer to have a tour of the place, virtually. This gets him involved and he analyzes the products’ features and benefits in real-time.
Apart from the online stores, today even the brick and mortar stores are finding a chance to include VR in their stores. Many retail brands invite customers and educate them about the brand’s legacy with the help of VR which further outlines the brand value in that customer’s mind.
- Builds on industry buzz
We have seen several applications of VR where it is helping in promoting sales for the brand, whether directly or indirectly. However, VR is not just limited to sales. It is actually a good tool to build on the buzz for any industry. Suppose that Zara launches its online apparel range and a try-on feature with it wherein you can use your picture and convert yourself into a rockstar or maybe a fashion model with your favorite apparel in Zara’s range.
You can even post these pictures on your social media accounts. This can be a good strategy to showcase the latest trends in the fashion industry and create a buzz about the clothing industry online. Moreover, it will excite that market segment which generally doesn’t shop with Zara but will get an idea about what it feels and looks like.
A similar example can be if a famous bike company launches a digitalized bike racing game wherein even a middle-class man can experience the feel of driving a luxury bike.
- Interactive handbooks
One more use of virtual reality can be to create interactive and easy user manuals for customers. Meanwhile, a normal user manual comes in a physical copy format that explains the working of any device through diagrams, a virtual user manual will do the same through an app but in a better way.
For instance, if a person has bought a dishwasher from a virtual store, he gets a digitalized user manual that can be in the form of an app wherein he can scan the machine and watch its interior features, functions and learn how to set it up. In this way, the user will get a complete idea of how his product has been made and what the safety instructions are.
Experts mention that handing over this kind of interactive user manual to the clients can reduce the work of post-sales support teams and will also satisfy the customers in a better way.
Benefits of Virtual Reality
Now that we have seen there are a lot of ways virtual reality is being used in the e-commerce industry, it will not be wrong to call it the future of e-commerce. Let us look at some of the major advantages of having virtual reality included in online shopping:
- Leaves a memorable impact on the customer
These days everyone follows what’s trending in the world, if something is happening on social media sites or is getting popular on the TV it influences the general public too. Virtual Reality is no less than a trend these days and when people get to be a part of it, it actually becomes memorable and exciting for them.
Virtual Reality is a fascinating way of attracting customers, showing them your brand’s history or the newly launched products without even giving them the pain of getting up from their couches, makes them feel over the top. E-commerce companies are trying their best to convert their client’s online shopping journey to an unforgettable experience.
- Reduces the number of cancelations and returns:
Virtual reality has introduced people to VTO, which is a virtual try-on where the customers can easily try the products and check whether they should buy them or not. When people try a product virtually there are very few chances of them placing a cancellation or returning a request for the same. All of this saves the company’s extra work and at the same time satisfies a customer by providing their favorite products.
- Ignites word of mouth publicity
All brands know, word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful marketing techniques. Today social media has made this technique even more successful. Virtual reality is capable of giving that immersive experience that is memorable and shareable as well. And as VR experience is one of the trendiest things to do these days, people tend to follow them too.
- Can help digital marketing campaigns
The world is moving towards digitalization at a faster pace and so are marketing campaigns. Companies are trying their best to develop new and powerful digital marketing campaigns every day and VR and AR can help them in this.
Ads made with AR are getting very popular these days on social media sites as they are a new concept for the audience. Google is also planning to include AR product images in its organic and paid searches to give its users a better shopping experience.
- Improves the consumer-seller relationship
An old but tested method of impressing your customers is to “show, don’t tell”. Virtual reality makes this work very easy for you. If you have an e-commerce store, giving your customers a virtual tour of the store along with a try-on feature and a virtual assistant will make them super confident and assured when buying a product from your store. This will not only establish a good relationship between your brand and your clients but will also give you a competitive edge over other players.
- A convenient invention
Online shopping was introduced to provide convenience and save customers valuable time. But with the addition of virtual reality, the e-commerce sector has removed all issues that a customer can face while shopping online. Virtual reality offers virtual tours and product trails too that help the customer to buy the product with zero anxiety. When an online store offers several features as a physical one would do, customers would likely enjoy shopping online.
- Help spread brand awareness
Today the general public is glued to the internet and every day they watch thousands of brands and their advertisements. However, only a small percentage of the targeted audience tends to click on the ads. Therefore, to make your brand stand out in the crowd it is important to offer something exciting and unique. Including VR and AR techniques in your online store would most likely help you to spread your brand’s uniqueness and customer-friendly features among your audience.
- Promotes sale
In this modernized world, customers have turned even pickier. They are not ready to compromise on their choices and that is mostly because they have a lot of options available. In this situation only attracting audiences to your website is not enough, there should be something extra that can make them click on the buy button. Well VR and AR technologies promise to offer such results as they provide an impressive and immersive experience to the clients. A new client when they find something unique and interesting tends to stay on the web page for a longer time than ultimately promoting sales.
- Next level satisfaction
A few sections of people still don’t believe in the authenticity of online shopping and only trust the traditional methods. They believe in visualizing and feeling the whole product from all angles before investing in it. While this is where virtual reality pitches in to act as a bridge. With the help of virtual reality, a person can walk into a virtual environment and visualize the features of the product he wants to buy.
Meanwhile, Augmented Reality helps them to place the same product in their house to gain the potential buyer’s full confidence. In this way, a person who had disbelief in purchasing an item online is now a satisfied and happy customer.
- Reduces social issues
COVID pandemic has left us with many new norms and standards like hygiene, safety measures, social distancing, etc. In this scenario, most of the brick and mortar stores are shutting down to open their own online stores, because today the public is not outside but sitting at their home and surfing online. Moreover, why go to a physical store and get exposed to all that danger when you just walk around the same store, virtually.
Not only for the e-commerce sector and the customers but this has been promoted by the governments of many countries too so as to keep everyone safe from the deadly disease.
Does Virtual Reality increase sales?
Virtual reality is one of the latest advancements that is helping the e-commerce industry to grow well. However, this technology has also shown better results in increasing the efficiency of the sales teams of e-commerce brands.
Here are the ways VR can help your sales strategy:
- Better training sessions for the sales team
Some brands remain unsuccessful and unpopular despite having the right product and high-technology in their stores and the reason can be their staff. If your staff is irresponsible, careless, rude, or shy you will likely lose customers, even the loyal ones. However, it’s not always the staff you can blame as they might not have received the right sales training.
You can create interactive sales training sessions for your employees with the help of Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality programs take the staff to a virtual environment where they learn to meet, greet and sell their products. Some VR training programs even control the posture, gesture, hand movements, and eye contact of the staff to train them in a better manner.
Your employees are the face of your brand even if you are an e-commerce brand. Moreover, these interesting training sessions will promote them to work enthusiastically and increase the company’s sales.
- Innovative presentation
We know presentation matters, not only to the customers but to everyone. If you have a very interesting idea about a new product you need to get it approved by your company’s higher management first. Showing a PowerPoint presentation or elaborating it in words might not prove to be that effective.
With the help of Virtual Reality, you can create actual scenarios where you can show your product working and highlight the new changes. Your executives can visualize it themselves through entering into that virtual world and feeling the changes in the product. VR changes imagination to reality and that’s why it is being accepted by all companies.
- Profitable investment
Though implementation of VR in your brand may seem a costly affair at first, deep down it is a profitable investment. With just a fair bit of investment, you get to make your online store offer a lot more than it could do earlier. With the help of VR, you give your customers a more tangible experience without compromising their convenience which ultimately impresses them and shortens the sales cycle.
According to experts soon all e-commerce players would have to have a virtual store of their own because VR is the future of online shopping. Moreover, the best part is now the VR gears are getting more and more affordable and efficient.
- Better products and services
As your customers are now experiencing their products very deeply through VR they are likely to give immediate feedback and raise more detailed questions that will help your brand to create better products for them and offer more personalized services.
Why is a virtual store important?
The COVID pandemic has locked us all inside our homes and got us habituated to do everything on the internet itself. As a result, online shopping has become everyone’s favorite due to the convenience it offers and for safety reasons as well. It was found that a popular e-commerce website saw 16.7 billion visits in the month of January 2020 which in the month of June 2020 went up to 21.96 billion. This data shows how e-commerce sites are growing every day.
Today the spending power of the general public has increased significantly but with this, their expectations and demand for services have increased too. Currently, The way you sell your products matters more to the audiences than what you sell. This is where Virtual stores get an edge. If you have a virtual store and offer an immersive experience to your customers they are likely to get impressed and become your loyal clients easily.
Having AR and VR technologies in your online store not only impresses your targeted audience but can even attract audiences other than the market segment you were focused upon. Plus the mouth publicity, competitive edge, and brand buzz that is created will give you much more confidence.
A virtual store is a one-time investment that can give you multiple benefits and help your business establish its name in the e-commerce industry. The best part is now the cost of VR headsets and installation charges is going down which are opening newer doors of opportunities for these online businesses.
Adapting/ Implementing E-commerce VR in your Store
Now that we have full knowledge about what VR is and how effective it can be for your e-commerce business, we should look at how to implement it in our own stores. Being a new technology, adapting Virtual Reality would need you and all your staff some good amount of training and practice so that you can use the best of its features to uplift your brand.
- Shape your target
Being in business we all know what is the first thing we need to do! It is to determine and shape our goals. You can not spend money on digitizing your business only because your competitors are doing it. You need to have preset targets which you may want to achieve with the help of this new technology.
Your target can be to either get the media’s attention and publicize your brand, give your customers a better experience, or give your brand a new look. While it might be any one of them or a few of them, you need to stick around these goals and plan accordingly to get effective results.
- Decide what you want to deliver
Now that you have set your goal, plan the kind of experience you want to deliver to your clients. You may want to set up a system where you take your clients for a virtual tour around the store and give them an interactive experience by setting up chat assistants. You can also showcase your story and your brand’s legacy through VR.
Designing your brand’s own game where the clients can play in the form of avatars is also a good way of impressing new clients. But it’s all upon you how you plan and wish to target your clients.
- Hire a Professional
VR is a brand new technology that is still developing and therefore hiring a good professional VR developer is very important. Once you have the developer you need to discuss what form of technology you want in your business and what will suit it the best. Price, gear, and software programmings should also be talked about to develop the best virtual store for your brand.
- Perform trials
Once everything is done, set up a dedicated team to look after the technical aspects of VR at least in the initial phases. Perform multiple checks and trials to see if all elements are working. Check if your new online store is user-friendly and is well-designed.
- Get the feedback
Every marketing strategy’s success is decided by how your customers react to it. Collecting your client’s feedback about their VR experience at your virtual store is very important. For this purpose, you can have a feedback form at your site or else contact your customers through email to get their views. You can also hold VR headsets giveaways on your social media sites to attract the public.
What the future looks like?
It has been reported that around 78.65% of people around the world add products to their carts but do not buy them while shopping online. While these sites do everything to bring those customers back, they still fail. This shows that the e-commerce industry needs something more solid that can influence and impress the viewers’ minds and compel them to click on the “buy” button. Virtual reality is one such thing that can prove to be super effective for an e-commerce store, especially in this digitalized era. Virtual reality along with Augmented reality is capable of offering everything a person would ask for while shopping online.
VR offers several advantages concerning sales, promotion, and brand awareness. VR and AR as discussed above are capable of pushing a brand’s digital marketing strategies and making them a grand success. Despite having so many features and benefits, VR is still to be accepted in many parts of the world mostly due to its high prices. Nevertheless, in a general survey conducted by Gartner, around 50% of the retailers and e-commerce brand owners are planning to invest in VR and AR very soon.
Some of the top brands are already ahead:
Dior, a popular French luxury fashion brand, has created a virtual beauty store for its clients that helped them balance the sales during the lockdown period. Through this feature Dior welcomes its clients to walk around their virtual store, navigate and choose their favorite lotions, perfumes, and soaps.
Sephora is a multinational retail company that specializes in personal care and beauty products. Sephora became the first to release a dedicated AR app wherein the client can try on the makeup and accessories by just scanning their face through the camera.
IKEA is a multinational retail company that offers ready-to-assemble furniture and home decor items. IKEA launched its AR application which allows the clients to choose a piece or a set of furniture and place them inside a room to analyze the look. The app also presents each piece of furniture with a scale so that the clients can figure out the actual dimensions of the item.
Due to several reasons, we cannot imagine the e-commerce industry’s future without VR and AR.
Virtual Reality in Ecommerce FAQs
- Which are the top virtual reality companies?
If you are planning to implement virtual reality in your e-commerce business recently you should know the top companies that offer the best services:
Six of the best virtual reality companies around the world:
- Oculus VR
- How is Virtual Reality different from Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality?
Virtual reality is a technology where a simulated environment is created and people enter the virtual world in real-time with the help of VR headsets. Virtual reality offers an immersive experience to the viewers. Whereas Augmented Reality instead of removing any view, add virtual elements to a person’s live view. Mixed reality is a merger of both AR and VR to provide a mixture of real and virtual environments where both physical and digital elements exist.
- What do you mean by Extended Reality?
Extended reality is a wide term that includes Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, and other immersive technologies. It is often called X reality or Cross reality and can be thought of like a merge of the real and digital world with space.
- How much does a VR headset cost?
There are a lot of companies that make different types of VR headsets. Your VR headset can cost you somewhere between $30-$1000 or even more, according to the materials and lenses used in its making.
Some of the best VR headsets and their price:
- Oculus Quest 2 – $299
- HTC Vive Pro Virtual Reality Headset- $ 809
- BOBOVR Virtual Reality Headset- $ 129.98
- Sony Playstation VR Starter Set Headset- $542.56
- Panosonite VR Headset – $55.88
- How much does a VR project cost?
The estimated hourly charges of a professional VR developer are between $80-$120. Therefore, the whole of a VR project will require at least $40,000 for your spending ability and the features you want in your app or website.