Is Virtual Reality Part of Retail’s Future?

Content Manager

This week I wrote about how Wayfair is in the beginning stages of providing a virtual reality experience for its customers with the launch of Patio Playground.

Patio Playground is a first-party virtual reality application that allows shoppers to be introduced to a lakeside scene where they can browse Wayfair’s product catalog, selecting outdoor furniture and design a background setting. Wayfair is using Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset to make this a possibility for them.

But Wayfair is still a ways away from making this experience a shoppable one, where you can actually make purchases in the experience. At the moment, it is simply for brand awareness.

[Related: Wayfair Increases Brand Awareness with Virtual Reality]

But we have to ask ourselves the question, “Is virtual reality the next big thing for ecommerce?”

As it stands right now, bricks-and-mortar stores or ecommerce are able to provide this experience. An article by CMS Wire talked about how virtual reality at some point could act as a middle ground between the convenience of ecommerce and the interactive elements of bricks and mortar.

The article cites some interesting points about barriers that will keep virtual reality in retail at bay, at least for now.

  • Costly hardware – Shoppers will be expected to have a quality virtual reality headset to make this a possibility. Wayfair customers would have to purchase the Oculus Rift headset to have the experience they’re having.

My thought about this at the moment, and this could definitely change, is it worth it purchasing an expensive headset to go shopping?

  • Store Investment – Are stores up to the challenge of providing a decent virtual reality experience?

Brands today are having enough trouble trying to connect the store to ecommerce. Would the introduction of virtual reality just be an added headache? I’m thinking that retailers are trying to tackle too much at once in an effort to keep up with the latest trends. So brands should ask themselves whether it is even worth it.

Is there a need for virtual reality in retail? I personally don’t think so. It’s more of a luxury, something to excite customers. Like CMS Wire states, ecommerce fills a need, while virtual reality is more of a “nice to have” capability.

Daniela Forte is Multichannel Merchant’s Associate Editor

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