The use of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual reality) technology within the business world has been growing at a remarkable rate. In fact, Goldman Sachs has estimated that the AR/VR technology market will reach at least $80 billion by 2025, and in fact may reach up to $180 billion. Much of this growth will be driven by the adoption of these technologies by the business world in order to better reach their customer base as they integrate AR and VR technology into their overall business processes.
AR/VR technology works to enhance the physical world for the user in two different ways. VR technology acts to replace the “real world” by immersing the viewer in a computer-generated simulation that is independent of his or her actual surroundings. AR technology creates an “overlay” of computer generated imagery over the real world, thus modifying actual objects that the user is observing.
For example, an individual using VR technology could view and “walk through” a building that did not currently exist. AR technology could be used to project a new color of paint over an already existing home in order to show how it would look after being physically painted.
Improving the Shopping Experience
AR/VR technology can enable an online business to provide its customers with an immersive experience, allowing the VR/AR user to view or even feel the product as he or she would in the store.
This can help ensure that the customer is satisfied with his or her purchase, reducing the number of returns for online purchases. In many cases, the return of an online purchase is due to the customer’s inability to actually try out or handle the item before purchasing it. However, by using VR technology, the user can view and even virtually use the item, ensuring that he or she is fully satisfied with the purchase.
As the popularity of online commerce continues to grow, businesses will find this capability vital to their continued success. Currently, those businesses that offer VR shopping options have seen the rate of their returns drop by up to 23 percent, a clear sign of the advantages found by allowing customers to try their offerings virtually before committing to a purchase.
AR technology also allows the buyer to see how his or her purchase will fit in at the home or their bodies. An AR shopping experience can allow the buyer to take a picture of his house, and then overlay the purchase where he or she expects it to go. For example, IKEA made use of AR apps to allow customers to virtually place IKEA furniture in their homes in order to make certain they desired the furniture before physically purchasing it.
In both cases, the technology combines the ease and convenience of online purchases with an ability to examine products that until now was the domain of brick-and-mortar shopping establishments.
Sears Home Improvement is also testing VR technology for with kitchen remodels.
Using AR/VR Technology to Bring the Business to the Customer
One advantage of AR/VR technology is the ability to bring the shopping experience to the customer, both inside and outside of his or her house. For example, because virtual “stores” cost no money to establish, it is possible to use augmented reality e-commerce apps to bring the store to the customer.
The Chinese online grocer Yihaodian provided an excellent example of this technique when it opened 1,000 “virtual” stores over the course of a single night, locating them in some of the most popular sightseeing points in the nation. Those with the company’s e-commerce app were able to interact and shop at these augmented reality locations.
By doing so, Yihaodian was able to quickly capitalize on consumer movement patterns, placing its stores where the consumers were going, as opposed to forcing customers to come to brick-and-mortar stores. In addition, it was able to provide an immersive experience for its customers, dramatically increasing the probability that they would then make purchases from Yihaodian.
Finally, this technology allows for the use of virtual advertising, eliminating the need to pay for physical advertising space while permitting the business to dynamically change the location and nature of its advertising on a literally minute by minute basis in order to attract the largest amount of business possible. AR/VR advertising is easily adaptable to other types of promotion, such as offering coupons and discounts in order to compete with other businesses that are still using older advertising models.
Other Benefits of AR/VR Technology
VR and AR technology can also help improve a business’s internal operations. Employee training can use VR to allow employees to get “hands-on” training, without requiring specialized training facilities. VR prototyping can allow the company to use the product virtually, improving the entire design process. For example, an architect could use VR modeling programs to develop and test a building’s floor plan in order to ensure that it has adequate facilities for the estimated staff and customer population, eliminating the potential need for expensive revisions at a later date.
Finally, VR can help ensure that vital staff members can always meet when needed, no matter where the participants are physically located. Unlike phone conferences, a VR meeting would permit the full range of human interaction, dramatically improving the productivity of the meeting. Such VR-based meetings can also allow for the virtual display of valuable or delicate items without the attendant risk of moving the physical item.
The Future of AR/VR Technology
As the cost of AR/VR technology continues to decline, it is likely that in the very near future, most consumers will have access to these new ways of looking at the world. For this reason, small businesses will certainly increase the rate of their adoption of AR/VR technology.
The benefits include providing an immersive experience for the user, improving the customer’s shopping experience and reducing the costs associated with training, design, and employee collaboration. For this reason, businesses seeking to remain competitive should work to fully integrate these technologies with their current and future business practices.
Author info: Josh McAllister is a freelance technology journalist with years of experience in the IT sector. He is passionate about helping small business owners understand how technology can save them time and money. Find him on Twitter @josh8mcallister