You don’t need us to explain the difference between love and cheap thrills, we’ve all been there. You also don’t need us to tell you that technology will disrupt the retail industry. We may as well sit here and tell you the sky is blue, and no one has time for that, plus you’re smarter than that. (But seriously though, have you seen how blue the sky is lately, Spring has sprung my friends).

Anyway, the conversation is less generic tech, and more specific forms of technology like virtual reality or augmented reality, and how it can alter the way we shop and interact with brands. In fact, it will alter the way we fall in love with brands or not at all.

‘But haven’t we talked about VR already?’  *cue eye roll and groan*

Yes, yes we absolutely have. That’s just the thing, brands have been talking about it for ages, even doing it, but there’s a difference between doing it well and doing it for the sake of it. Most brands start talking about it because it’s the new toy on the block, the latest thing all the cool kids have. But just like in school all those years ago, you can wear the trainers the cool kids have got, but it doesn’t automatically make you cool, it makes you a wanabe.

‘So who’s cool?’

There are some brands that have put their money where their mouth is and managed to create immersive experiences for their customers. Take West Ham United football club for instance. They’re currently in the middle of building a new stand and fans can put on a VR headset to see which seat they want to buy. Depending which seat number and row is entered, the headset will allow you to see exactly what your view on game night is going to be. Because they’ve offered this experience, they’ve been able to sell more season tickets, brining revenue back into the club.

The trap many retailers have fallen into is that they’re doing virtual reality for the sake of it and it’s not leading to an increase in sales. There’s no point in slapping a headset on potential customers and showing them how art manifests on the walls of your camping store. What good is art on the walls when I’m looking for a bivvy bag to survive my twenty-mile hike? Absolutely none is your answer. And if that’s the case, slap some paint on the wall yourself and don’t worry about the expensive headset.

The outdoor retail giant North Face understands this and created a VR experience that transported customers to the Yosemite National Park. They could then see the terrain they’d be walking in, the conditions and what kind of equipment they would need. That’s a helpful shopper experience that can conclude in a sale.

Lexus, Audi and Volvo are among other retailers who have used VR to give potential customers test drives of their cars that points out all the finer details of the cars capabilities and the driving experience. Again, an experience that immerses the consumer in the product and takes them seamlessly though the buying cycle.

‘So we do love it?’

OF COURSE we bloody do. We have all our hands in the air for virtual reality, augmented reality, and any other reality they care to come up with. It’s an awesome sales tool, but it’s well to remember that it is a sales tool for retail brands and should be used as such. You need a foundation of retail knowledge and shopper insight before you start exploring those avenues. And even when you do have that, it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to create alternative realities for all your consumers to enhance the shopper experience. VR still has a long way to go and it’s an expensive tool, but start planning the road to it now or you will get left behind. Understanding how you can incorporate bits of VR into apps, websites and the in-store buying cycle will give you the head start you need in an increasing technological world.

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