It was a Thursday morning when It arrived. Bedecked in about 50,000 sequins that were already falling off, in a shade of green that was nothing like expected and ending in a hemline that was two feet longer than the picture indicated, was the dress I had ordered for a friend’s wedding in less than a week.
Not only was I not going to be able to wear this bedazzled nightmare from off-the-rack hell, I was now saddled with the chore of ordering a new dress and having to pack up this monstrosity to be returned. While online shopping has presented us with a host of conveniences, it has also given us a veritable cornu-dystopia of internet shopping fails like my own, along with frustrating trips to the post office with return boxes in hand.
But what if it could be different? What if I could have seen this exact dress on my body type before I ever hit the ‘Buy Now’ button?
Maybe that isn’t the right question. It might be more appropriate to ask, “what if it had to be different?” Though consumers are still willing to roll the dice on internet shopping, they are fast demanding more of their buying experience.
Having already been saturated with traditional advertising methods since birth, today’s millennial generation of consumers want to fully experience the clothes, products and even real estate they’re buying, before they put down the cash (or plastic or Bitcoin or Venmo as is more often the case, since even the way we pay for things has evolved).
Moreover, they aren’t just concerned with the benefits of the products themselves, but also the companies behind them. In an age when you can purchase hundreds of similar products from dozens of retailers with the click of a button, it takes a special company to inspire brand loyalty and capture conversions. This evolution of customer demands for a more immersive experience and connection with brands has left marketers and businesses scrambling to engage with people.
Technology that was once treated as a novel way to play video games is fast becoming the answer to the question of how to engage with customers and improve a dated consumer experience.
With augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), you can quite literally change how your customers interact with your product. Instead of presenting a 2-D buying experience with a list of benefits and size dimensions, your customers could potentially see what your product looks like in their own hands — fueling their desire to buy and decreasing the chances that your product will get bad reviews or returns. As more companies employ this disruptive technology, it will become increasingly important to fully integrate it. Why would your customers trust your products based on flat images when they can experience them in real time from another seller?
Aside from keeping up with the Joneses as it were, and the demands from customers, AR and VR are legitimate ways to increase your customers’ connection to your brand. These are more than novelties or gimmicks, they are set to become crucial parts of how consumers experience products and brands. By increasing the ways that consumers can interact with products, you also increase connection with emotions and convey more about who your company is – a critical element of selling to the new generation of consumers.
Unlike other methods of selling products, AR/VR have ways to put all information at a consumer’s fingertips. In the real estate space, we see companies like REinVR creating realistic virtual reality renderings that give clients a way to explore homes with variations on colors, decor and style (to see more of REinVR see this interview).
AR/VR technology allows consumers to imagine greater things and takes away the guesswork that comes when only their imagination is used. It eliminates the need to drive to individual model homes and the disappointment that comes when a small paint sample doesn’t give an adequate representation of how a color will look on an entire wall.
These same ideas can be applied to other goods and services as well. For example, my dress disaster above could have been avoided if I could simply input an image of myself with some measurements and seen exactly how the dress would fit on my frame.
Online retailers are far from the only ones who can benefit from disruptive technology. With brick and mortar stores losing more customers each year, AR/VR can pose a way to improve in-person buying experience as well.
Beijing retailer and ecommerce site, JD.com recently employed virtual makeup mirrors for consumers to try lipsticks without having to put the product on. Not only is this time and cost effective, it’s also a completely hygienic alternative to sampling makeup directly. Upcoming virtual fitting rooms would provide a similar experience and decrease wait times for traditional fitting rooms in store. Moreover, this could be an efficient option for shoppers who don’t have the time or desire to try on clothes in the store.
Ultimately though, this is all just the beginning. AR/VR, despite having been around in one form or another for decades, are still in their infancy in terms of their uses for consumers but with what has already been done, the potential is undeniable. The key for businesses, is to start now. As we’ve discussed in other articles, waiting to adopt disruptive technology has no financial or human benefit because the cost to jobs and the bottom-line will be seen in other ways.
Waiting for the “bugs to be worked out” is, in short, a surefire way to see the competition sprinting ahead with innovations while your company is left wearing an ugly green dress you bought too late to have altered. If, however; you’re reading this and are worried how your company is looking, the good news is that you still have time. While the technology is still fairly new, it’s the perfect opportunity to get in the virtual dressing room and start seeing what fits.