If you are reading this on a screen, there is a good chance that you have spent the last 6 months, confined to the comfortable but predictable confines of your home. As most of the world tries to get back to a semblance of the “normal”, it is well understood that what “normal” is NOW, is quite different from, what “normal” WAS.
How many of us can now imagine, going to a birthday party and blowing candles on a cake? Or engaging in a group hug, after a team building session? Or even enjoying the sins of a heavy breakfast buffet at a hotel?
And yet, we are human beings. Programmed to live with the stimuli that has enabled our species to grow and thrive over thousands of years.
Quite frankly, sitting at home and look at a screen, is not working for us!
Beyond these deep questions of physiology, biology and existentialism, the more practical aspects of work, commerce and, for folks like me, marketing has become more real and urgent.
How do we now sell, communicate, transact and excite potential customers & users with limited stimuli or touch-points? No longer do customers walk into showrooms, shops, arenas, conferences etc, for us to create and control an environment that can wow them into instantly connecting with our products & services.
It is clear therefore, that we (the creators, makers and builders) must go to them (customers, users and consumers). In doing so, we give up that well-shaped, craftily created and extensive environment. It looks like we may have to find another way!
Enter, technologies like VR and AR, which have been around for quite a while… but just like Yoga, Vegetarianism and Moderate living, their updated avatar seems to find new relevance.
Imagine wanting to buy an Omega or a nice hair dryer or vacuum cleaner from Dyson or attend your favorite music festival. Gone is the access to associates, swanky shops or iconic arenas. What is left is a product, the customer and possibly a hyperlink in the middle.
But what if you could still get an immersive experience for a product in just a few clicks or through an application, some inexpensive hardware and your internet connection.
Sure… our world has changed. But the reality is that the last 100 years have been filled with constant and often tectonic changes. Through this, technology, understanding customers, and some bold moves have helped certain brands and companies, survive & thrive.
So the question to ask ourselves now is – Are we truly changing? Are we ready? Or is our strategy based on a deck and a prayer, hoping that things will go back to being ‘normal’?
Virtual reality (VR), along with its sister technology augmented reality (AR), offers retailers and brands the opportunity to transform how people shop. These are emerging technologies, but investment in the sector is hot, with AR and VR startups raising $658 million in equity financing last year. Some projections put AR and VR investment in retail at close to $30 billion by 2020.
One customer might want shorts without having to travel to the store. Another might want to order an expensive vacuum cleaner on the spot and want to be sure that it’s right for the house. Applications using either technology stand to eliminate customer pain points, elevate customer service, and create a differentiated, personalized customer experience – but more importantly, the aim is to fill the gaping hole of lack of in-person stimuli and touchpoints. The successful incorporation of VR and AR into retail models also has the potential to vastly change the way retailers are thinking about stores or agile business for the consumers.
So, what should be the VR/AR commerce strategy?
1. VR immerses the consumer in a simulated world. Hence, it is important to know and design that world in detail. Hence, organizations and brands will require the right skill sets and people to translate real-world elements into the virtual world.
2. Decide whether the application is for in-store, out-of-store use, experiential, etc.
3. Build understanding and certain expertise in leveraging these technologies in-house. While software partners and vendors may do most of the heavy lifting, expect the best results and value for your investments when the internal stakeholders deeply understand the inputs and the outcomes.
4. Define why are you doing it? This would mean asking the hard questions of possibly what you are missing, lacking or would like to try new to move into the future. Just like with any major strategic or big bet, it helps immeasurably to know the “Why”.
5. And most important, how does this connect to the business model. This is where, we may move towards defining KPIs, Budgets, ROI, etc.