By Martin Higginson, CEO of leading UK virtual reality specialists, ImmotionVR.
As a society we are hurtling through a period of digital growth, like an F1 car in a slipstream we speed onwards, collecting accolades and amassing greater achievements as we go. But we’re also collecting casualties, and the British high street is one of the biggest.
Retail greats, including Woolworths, BHS, House of Fraser and Debenhams, are among the long list of victims. While the likes of John Lewis and Tesco are trying to reconfigure their offering, putting digital at its centre.
Online is thriving while bricks and mortar are facing a battle – not for hearts and minds (for we still love the touch and feel of products) – but of relevance. While the increasing demand for online shopping is leading to more-and-more vacant shops, it is also generating more leisure time for consumers – and that earmarks an opportunity for retail.
Utilising the modern consumers accrued leisure time is important for retailers to understand, because it opens a whole world of opportunities to build a relationship with your customer, and one of the greatest and fastest growing developments of late is Virtual Reality (VR).
VR provides two crucial opportunities for retail: 1) VR within store, engaging customers in new shopping or brand-related experiences; 2) the VR experience centre that drives footfall to a shopping area.
Within a store, retailers can use VR to take customers to new places beyond the walls of their building – a new piece of swimwear, for example, instead of seeing it on a mannequin, VR can transport you to Bondi Beach and see your chosen apparel in action, or you can be sitting next to the catwalk in Paris and watch the latest trends in their full majesty.
Developing this for both practical experiences (think of test driving a car in the mountains of Colorado from the safety of shopping centre) and ‘on brand’ experiences (North Face, for example, can take you to Yosemite National Park – where better to experience that particular brand?) is a fast-growing opportunity for retailers and one we see continuing.
The other part of the VR equation is location-based experiences for driving footfall. These are VR retail units, like ImmotioVR’s, that offer customers the highest quality VR experience (more than what they can achieve at home) – in many ways similar to the arcades of the 1980s.
“Theatre”; “Excitement”; “Entertainment”; and “Competitive Socialising” are all things that VR brings to the High Street. Our brave new world is no longer simply about shopping for an item of clothing, it is about shopping in a place that entertains and stimulates.
Done right, VR allows the consumer to transport themselves into a virtual world, a world where the boundaries between reality and fiction become blurred. As a result, it has the ability to help transform the High Street into a magical world, a destination that brings footfall.
In between shopping, imagine being able to race around the Nürburgring with friends, swim with humpbacks in the seas off Tonga, scare yourself silly on an extreme roller coaster that sits atop a skyscraper, journey back to a Jurassic world, or take a journey into the depths of space. All of this and more is possible with VR.
Blending VR, with artisan shops, food outlets, other leisure activities and, of course, traditional retail will in our view be the face of the new High Street. VR can be an instigator for improving the shopping experience and driving footfall – enabling the new and old to live together.