How will virtual reality commerce impact customer experience in the near future?

Virtual reality is on its way to becoming mainstream—and this year is already shaping up to be a banner year for the technology. TrendForce predicts that sales of VR devices will reach 14M in 2016 with the greatest use seen in the gaming industry, but the potential doesn’t end there. Applications for virtual reality include everything from training simulations, advertising campaigns, immersive entertainment experiences, and, of course, commerce.

Virtual Reality in B2C Commerce

With the release of Oculus Rift coming up in Q1 of 2016, we expect to see more commerce uses of the technology start to emerge. Already, there are several noteworthy B2C applications that are in the works.

Gaming and entertainment

The first virtual reality based commerce (apart from the actual selling of the devices) is with software and app-based games and entertainment. The amount of apps and games currently available for Google Cardboard are a solid indicator of the early gaming and entertainment dominance. In-app purchases and micropayments could also see a large VR boom. We may even start to see virtual versions of real products, such as clothing, that can easily be added for sale in a way that’s similar to current video games and avatar markets.

Auto

Savvy consumers who do online shopping and price comparison before buying a new car can now virtually take the car for a spin. Volvo is leading the charge here with a simulated test drive app that allows users to use Google Cardboard to feel what it would be like to drive the XC90.

Fitness gear

Fitness giant Nike is all about putting customers at the center of the hero’s journey, which makes VR the perfect tool to further their initiative. In June of last year, they released an experience that virtually lets users walk a mile in the (Nike) shoes of soccer star Neymar, Jr.

Retail

Retailers are already brainstorming applications that will allow customers to browse a virtual store, pick up items, and even have avatars try items on. Yet, this industry should be encouraged to think outside the box in terms of VR UX potential. Dior Eyes, for example, created their own headset that enables shoppers to experience firsthand what it’s like to be backstage at an exclusive fashion show.

Home improvement

Many furniture and home design companies already use augmented reality to give customers a glimpse of how a product would look in their home. Fully immersive virtual reality experiences can take this further by providing customers with 3D views on how the furniture will actually look in the room.

Lowes Innovation Labs also offer a vision for the future of home improvement showrooms. The Lowes Holoroom allows customers to pick out and arrange fixtures and furniture on a tablet and export it to the Holoroom virtual reality environment at the store or through Google Cardboard. This could be combined with their customized in-store 3D printing for a whole new customer experience.

B2B Virtual Reality Commerce

As B2C customer expectations continue to impact B2B client expectations, adventurous B2B companies can experiment with virtual reality through their customer life cycles. Training via simulation and try-before-you-buy virtual experiences provide significant opportunity to reduce costs and increase sales.

Traditional video demonstrations of products and services could also find new life as simulations. It’s easy to imagine a security company providing an experience that demonstrates to prospects what happens during an emergency; or an architecture firm that could provide clients with VR-enhanced blueprints so they can see a new office space before it’s built.

And while in-person sales are still integral to the B2B sales process, particularly for large enterprises, virtual reality can serve to enhance the sales agent experience. On the prospect facing side, webinars and demos could be replaced with guided interactive simulations. On the internal side, customer information taken from a CRM system could be used to provide a new sales representative with a virtual reality experience of all previous customer touchpoints. This type of “hands on” training could drastically decrease the time it takes to get a new sales representative up to speed.

These are only a few examples of virtual reality commerce capabilities, but there is seemingly no end to the potential. Companies who want to get a head start on VR before it becomes mainstream need to determine the best way to fulfill customers’ needs and brainstorm ways virtual reality could deliver an unparalleled experience.