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Virtual reality has become an unavoidable topic in discussions about the intersection of retail and technology. Outdoor clothing retailer The North Face is debuting a virtual reality experience focused on giving people a taste of the outdoors, soft drink brand Mountain Dew recently launched an interactive experience that takes fans snowboarding, and hiking boot company Merrell has debuted a virtual “walkthrough.”
Based on December 2014 research by Walker Sands, there’s certainly appetite among shoppers for such high-tech experiences, as two-thirds of US internet users said they would be interested in virtual reality, and 63% said such technologies would change the way they shop.
Purchasers still prefer brick-and-mortar, but the introduction of virtual reality could change this. When asked how virtual reality would affect their shopping experience, 35% said they would be open to purchasing more online, since they would receive a more realistic feel of a product, and 22% predicted they would be less likely to visit a physical retailer as a result of the technology. However, as it’s still early days for virtual reality, 37% of respondents couldn’t imagine the technology having an effect on their shopping experience.
However, consumers aren’t rushing to buy virtual reality headsets, which means their first introduction could be in-store—giving brick-and-mortar retailers that offer the option a chance to engage customers face-to-face and drive offline sales. Among internet users worldwide polled by Accenture, just 8% intended to purchase a virtual reality headset in the next 12 months. Adoption should be somewhat faster after that, as 14% said they would purchase such a device in one to three years, and 12% in three to five years.
Walker Sands noted that retailers needed to start thinking about and preparing for virtual reality due to consumers’ expectation of a new shopping—and specifically, ecommerce—experience sooner rather than later. However, recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit suggests many marketers in general aren’t ready. Among CMOs and marketing execs worldwide, virtual and augmented reality ranked toward the bottom of the list of trends that would have the biggest effect on marketers by 2020.
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