The answer Is a Very Confident Maybe

There is certainly a large hype bubble surrounding Virtual Reality Headsets and eCommerce companies have been waiting patiently to see how this will play out. Considering the immersive nature of VR the benefits are obvious for strengthening a brand experience as there is not much less left to the imagination for the user. Imagine you want to renovate your bathroom, before you would have to tediously go through and plan out everything step by step and you would only know how it would all look together once you were finished. With VR you could put in the dimensions of your bathroom and begin setting desired pieces, colors, and patterns into place. Immediately you would see how it looked in real time and determine what should be changed. This is exactly the App Lowe’s is creating dubbed the “HoloRoom” which is to be used with the Oculus Rift.

The Current VR Sweet Spot

As it stands right now, the sweet spot for VR is in high-consideration products that require some degree of customization. Furthermore products that have a high cost gives the user greater comfort in their purchase as they are able to view certain items more clearly and from any angle they desire. VR essentially gives merchants the ability to allow customers to digitally interact/manipulate with 3D products in a way that has not been known before. In a time when options online are abound, being able to fully showcase your products in an interactive way creates a distinctive advantage.

It is believed that as VR becomes more widespread, the cost to generate content will become cheaper and this new medium will find its way to less-expensive product types. There is also a high barrier for entry amongst customers/users. Typical costs for a VR headset range from $500-$800 with higher end models reaching into the thousands. There have been efforts by other companies  to produce a cheaper version in order to increase the potential audience size. Google for instance currently offers a $20 cardboard headset (which incorporates your phone) while Facebook and Samsung offer their own headsets for around $100 with purchase of a their latest smartphone.

Main Issues With VR

As with everything though, as time passes and VR is more widely used, overall costs for VR headsets will reduce and more people will undoubtedly own them. The main issue with VR right now is simply with the content and apps available. Currently there are thousands of hours worth of VR content available, but arguably, the amount of quality content pales in comparison. The same can be said for VR apps. There is also a certain burden inherent with having to either put a VR headset on or adding your phone into a viewer. The only reason to do this would be to view quality content and apps that cannot be viewed or used otherwise. Without it, these devices merely become novelties.

Advertisers are aggressively dedicating resources to become more familiar with VR in order to better understand the best way to generate quality content. But as this new medium is explored further as a marketing tactic, you can imagine there is a lot of work still to be done and currently seems best suited to stay as an experimental market test. Now there are certainly reasons for everyone jumping on the bandwagon so eagerly. For instance, 360-degree videos which are two-dimensional videos that you can watch and interact with on desktops and mobile devices, hint towards VR’s potential popularity. This has been confirmed by the popularity of Youtube’s 360-degree channel which has nearly 1 million subscribers. Further evidence can be found from single posts from the BBC, NASA, and CNN all of which have created VR content generating over a million views themselves. Further still… the New York Times VR app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times and they mention that 75% of their total views are from Cardboard sets. All of that said, along with the varying ways people hope to use VR in the future outside of viewing content (engineering, art, movies, television, video games, etc) there is enough reasoning behind the hype to give it both weight and momentum.

Publishers and advertisers will continue to generate VR content as technology companies create new platforms and devices to view it with. However this in itself creates a dilemma. As of yet there is no clear standard by which all VR content should be created. From a coding and marketing standpoint this can create an issue with allowing content to be viewed across multiple device types. Originally marketers had to deal with browser types , than came Mobilegeddon, and if you thought that was a headache… well, you haven’t seen anything yet. Undoubtedly there will be issues with creating a standard for VR content and apps. Those issues will eventually be resolved, but paving that nice smooth road takes time and a lot of error. Those first to market will be paving that path, though the hard work may be worth it to be first to market. As the adage goes, “The early bird gets the worm.”

A Caveat To VR and eCommerce

What we all have to remember is that VR is by no means new. VR in the hands of everyday users, customers, and people however… that is a rather remarkable technological step forward. There are an unfathomable number of uses for such technology. Essentially all aspects of or lives could be enhanced in one way or another if VR was widely used and available. Big step forwards such as this have historically proven to be hard for the general public to accept. Think of televisions, than computers, than mobile phones, than the internet, than smartphones, than all the various other mobile devices we have today. Each along its path came up against opposition claiming that they would be unnecessary or undesired and each has dramatically transformed the landscape of our lives.

Now this is not to say for certain that VR will be “The Next Big Thing”, but you can rest assured that something will be. If not this than likely something else soon and considering there is nothing else really competing with VR right now, you have to assume there’s something there. It’s in an entirely new echelon of its own and because of that VR has a lot going for it. Between the obvious want by the public, technology companies honest attempts to bring VR products to market, the development communities various VR projects currently in production, and agencies continuous development of VR content… what else can you compare this VR craze to? The experience created by VR cannot be compared to anything outside of itself. It’s its own thing, and a very exciting one for most.

That said, it should be stated that just because we individually may be unable to understand the implications of a new technology, that does not mean it isn’t viable, useful, or desired. For merchants, depending on the cost and/or the needed customization of your products, the implicit branding benefit and experience inherent in VR should give enough weight to considering its use. That goes for both on and offline use, as was the case for the Lowe’s app. As time passes and VR becomes more widely used the amount of content and apps  agencies put out will likely become staggering. Just as it did for mobile. All the while as more people own VR devices, the cost of future devices becomes cheaper, allowing for even greater access to it. Eventually many people believe VR will become a viable addition to the way we shop, it may even become indispensable for some. Amidst this growth, a savvy minded businessman or marketer would keep a keen eye on the lookout for an opportunity to make their own VR debut. It may be sometime soon that we don’t have to worry about being mobile friendly as much as we have to worry about being VR-friendly. That is both an interesting and odd thought.