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Virtual reality is finally on the cusp of being established, with several devices offering various degrees of immersion. Not only that, VR technology can now help you establish greater connections with your customers.
While video games and apps are an obvious initial fit for the technology, VR is also being embraced by industries across the spectrum: from car makers to healthcare providers, tourism marketeers to recruitment specialists.
VR technology is designed to trick our senses into thinking that the images and sounds we see and hear when wearing a headset are in fact the real thing. Early adopters form the core market for VR devices at the moment, but as innovation gains pace, more and more businesses will consider how to harness the technology for the better.
Whether it’s remodelling a bathroom or whole swathes of public policy, the possibilities are innumerable. The key to VR’s effectiveness is the ease with which we can adapt to whatever it encourages us to perceive.
Creative agency Brandwidth has been working within VR for nearly 20 years. Head of innovation Dean Johnson tells think-progress.com that he believes VR simply makes us more receptive.
“We retain as much as 80 per cent more when we have experienced something firsthand, rather than merely being force-fed information,” he says.
“For the first time, VR gives us this option. If we’ve received teaching or training in a virtual environment, we process the information as if we were actually there.”
One obvious beneficiary is architecture. Practices will be able to use VR to help visualise proposed plans for clients, giving the clearest picture yet of how a project could progress before the first bricks are even ordered. Businesses would waste less time and money by being able to offer more accurate, useful feedback at the very outset, mitigating many previously unforeseen problems.
Recruitment and talent management is another field that could be transformed. Prospective employees could take a virtual tour of the office, sit in on meetings and observe how teams work. They’d get a better sense of whether or not they’d be a natural fit within an organisation before even applying for a position. Freelancers and remote workers would also be able to better collaborate with teams in different locations.
Enhancements to professional development and training are easy to envisage. “These are practical applications,” Johnson says. “The real challenges for businesses are retail and brand experiences.”
VR could revolutionise retail as thoroughly as internet shopping did at the turn of the century. High-street stores could bolster physical stock with virtual samples – perfect for smaller stores with less on-site storage. As well as letting shoppers see how a product would slot into their day-to-day lives, VR technology would benefit retailers by giving them insight into how and why their customers spend.
One emerging trend is social shopping: detailed buying decisions made at home, informed by VR. It’s internet shopping taken to its logical next step. Instead of making a choice based on static images, video or specs, the whole user journey is built around the customer.
Take clothes shopping. After an initial body scan, garments could be tried on an accurate recreation of the shopper, with suggested items complementing that customer’s proportions. The additional involvement and information would doubtless lead to fewer returns and greater satisfaction.
“VR has to add value and deliver something more compelling and accessible than existing web or physical experiences,” Johnson says.
Yet retail businesses should also be looking to go beyond letting customers hang a virtual TV on their living room wall, or experience the practicalities of packing a potential new car with luggage for a family road trip.
Throughout the retail industry and beyond, companies would be able to invest in VR as a prediction tool. Research of cultural and social trends – be it truly personalised shopping experiences or demand for certain types of car – can then form the foundation of detailed industry and sector modelling. The way certain settings influence product consumption, or why those previously unforeseen blips caused by social phenomena strike, could be easier to forecast.
“It’s not easy,” Johnson says. “But the rewards come in the shape of increased awareness, measurable results like actual hotspot views and a personal connection that only VR can deliver.”
Like the advent of smartphones and social media, VR could infuse everything. Education, healthcare, engineering and far more could all benefit from the technology. Many leading companies are already forging ahead with VR use. Ford and Volvo in the automotive industry, and Thomas Cook in the travel sector, for instance.
Whether it’s advertising your product or working better as a team, your business could benefit from VR. The question is: do you want to explore it now, or wait for the competition to catch up?