How Retailers Are Incorporating VR to Boost Their Brands

By now, most of us have experienced our first VR’ moment. Mine transported me from the tradeshow floor at NRF in New York to Huntington Beach where I, very awkwardly but incredulously, surfed alongside dolphins.

So far, gaming has been the primary use for VR, but it’s also generating a lot of buzz for its potential in retail as an opportunity to engage, entertain and educate consumers in a new way. Pioneers like Lowe’s, Toms and North Face are turning to virtual reality to sell products, boost their brands and make shopping more fun.

Try before you buy

Lowe’s is using VR to bring consumer’s kitchen and bathroom design ideas to life. In select stores across the U.S. the home improvement chain has installed a space that enables shoppers to see a 3-D mock-up of their renovation plans.

Called the Holoroom, the simulated space can be personalized with individual room sizes, equipment, colors and finishings. Shoppers can provide the dimensions of a room and fill it with a selection of thousands of Lowe’s products.

Then they put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to look at how all the elements play together. The design is also viewable at home on YouTube 360 with a Google Cardboard viewer, which Lowe’s gives out free through on-site vending machines. The bottom line here is to try before you buy. Paint a kitchen or re-tile a bathroom in VR, and you may have a better sense of what lies ahead, and more confidence in how to go about it.

Tug at the heartstrings

Toms, a socially conscious shoe company (recently also branching into eyewear and coffee) put virtual reality headsets from Samsung into more than 100 stores around the world last year. The video shown depicts a trip to Peru as part of the company’s popular one-for-one campaign, in which it donates a pair of shoes for every pair it sells; viewers can see a video with panoramic views of a schoolyard as children are handed boxes of shoes. A brilliant, yet simple way for Tom’s customers to experience first-hand the impact of their purchase in a much more emotional way than ever before. Bring on the warm fuzzies!

Bring on the adventure

Outdoor recreation brand North Face is bringing the wilderness inside, featuring two virtual reality videos in select stores. The first video features breathtaking views, rock climbing in Yosemite and the Moab Desert in Utah. For the second video, North Face partnered with Outside magazine to issue Google Cardboard to subscribers so they could view shots of Nepal on their smartphones. Adding a VR component to stores could especially be a draw to millennial shoppers, who are tech-savvy and even more inclined to do all their buying online.

According to research firm Tractica, more than 200 million consumer virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMDs) will be sold worldwide by 2020. The company forecasts that consumer virtual reality hardware and content revenue will increase from $108.8 million in 2014 to $21.8 billion worldwide by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 142%.

It will certainly be interesting to see the various ways in which retailers adopt VR within the in-store experience over the next few years.

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Photo c/​o: Lowe’s Innovation Labs