Virtual reality is transforming how consumers shop for goods and services. When retail went remote via online platforms during Covid, consumers took their credit cards to the virtual realm. The remote shopping experience might have been the norm for many shoppers who were already used to perusing web sites and clicking buy, but for other consumers the online experience was something new to navigate.
While dressing rooms for clothes and showrooms for cars might have seemed untenable online, technology delivered a virtual experience to simulate the in-person experiences. A Virtual ‘try-on’ experience and a virtual reality showroom provides consumers with a way to visualize their purchase before finalizing the buy.
Here’s how businesses across different industries used virtual reality to help customers with their online shopping and helped them finalize their purchasing decisions.
Virtual…Fashion and Beauty
Vogue Business highlighted numerous fashion and beauty brands that were embracing the ‘virtual shopping’ experience. And, as Vogue noted, these experiences didn’t force shoppers to pop on a bulky headset. Some of the big beauty and fashion names that ventured into virtual included Charlotte Tilbury, Farfetch and Intermix.
Visiting Charlotte Tilbury’s web site opens shoppers up to more than just their products. Consumers also can book a virtual consultation for advice and guidance on skincare and makeup. The company also features live beauty events; these classes are free, but interested individuals need to register for a ticket. Registration is limited, and, for the lucky individuals who claim a spot, classes offer tutorials and beauty tips (one of the most recent classes focuses on “how to create an airbrush glow”).
Farfetch offers shoppers luxury brands at great prices. To add to the shopping experience, however, visitors also can visit the Farfetch AZ Factory. Clicking on this destination gives shoppers a unique experience; a truck opens to reveal a virtual pop-up shop experience. Shoppers can click on a link that directs them to a new collection. In addition, the virtual pop-up shop features interactive elements; visitors can click images in the virtual shop to see future offerings.
Intermix, which offers high-end luxury brands like Nanushka, Staud and Balmain (among many others), provides shoppers with the option to virtually interact with a stylist. Many sites offer a customer service rep online, Intermix provides advice onsite. Not sure what shoes to purchase to pair with a particular dress? Ask a stylist!
Sites offering online guidance, classes and virtual experience provide customers with a reason to stay engaged with their site. Not only do these enhanced site features add to the user experience and engagement, but they also could encourage return visits and might have an impact on the shopper completing their purchase.
In the case of Intermix, offering a stylist online can help shoppers who are on the fence about a particular purchase. If you’re investing in a very high-end garment, the price per wear may be quite high if the item can’t be worn often. Many choose investment pieces for their quality and wearability. A stylist may be able to advise how that item could be paired with other pieces in the wardrobe.
Or maybe the stylist could suggest other pieces by the same designer that would complement the potential purchase. Maybe the shopper is unsure what color would best suit their complexion. Offering expertise elevates the experience and can provide guidance and support to a weary shopper.
Beauty classes like those offered by Charlotte Tillbury could entice shoppers to try new products. The class about the “airbrush glow” might appeal to someone who wants to try out new looks. Products highlighted and used in the class might encourage more purchases. After all, shoppers who are trying to replicate a look would likely want the products used to create the featured look.
Virtual Try-On Experiences
Some stores offered a more immersive option for their online customers. Virtual try-on experiences or virtual dressing rooms allowed shoppers to preview outfits when they couldn’t visit the actual store.
Business Insider reported that both Adidas and Macy’s offered virtual fitting rooms. So what do these experiences look like? Per Business Insider, shoppers have to download Zeekit, an app that facilitates the virtual experience. Using the app, they can virtually preview their new purchase before buying. However, not all brands are offered via the app; shoppers can find all the available brands via Zeekit’s website. It’s free to download the app!
Zeekit’s app is truly virtual. While augmented reality takes a real life background and adds virtual elements as graphic overlays, Zeekit allows users to download a photo and try on clothes in a virtual environment. No goggles or headsets are required!
The car shopping experience also went online during Covid, and the online car buying experience was likely something new for shoppers. While online shopping for clothes, electronics and other goods has been quite common for decades, buying a car online hasn’t been the norm.
Some shoppers may visit several dealerships before finding the car of their dreams…at the right price. And it probably wasn’t uncommon for shoppers to take a few test drives of their favorite cars. Even the models that weren’t favorites might have been perused in the showroom or on the lot. Shoppers probably took a seat behind the wheel or played with unique features in different makes and models.
Car buying was truly a sensory experience. Shoppers sat in the car. They explored the many features. And, of course, the waft of new car smell added to the excitement of the potential purchase. Buying a car also meant testing it on the road; did it have a lot of get-up-and-go? Was the car comfortable to drive? All these details likely played a part in the decision.
When Covid stopped businesses from operating, many dealerships had to close to foot traffic. Surviving the pandemic and its economic effects meant adapting and taking business online. Dealerships couldn’t let hundreds of shoppers open up the cars, sit inside and take numerous test drives. The shopping experience had to be safe; this meant sanitizing cars before and after test drives, which also might have had to be scheduled ahead of time. Sometimes dealerships even delivered the cars to the customer for a ‘virtual test drive.’
Browsing cars online also had to be accessible and tactile…even when the in-person shopping experience couldn’t be completely replicated virtually. Virtual showrooms were offered by dealerships online to let customers explore the vehicles on their lot. Some dealerships might have just had a photo slideshow, while others had full interactive and immersive showroom experiences.
Dealerships that couldn’t offer a virtual showroom online could refer potential customers to RelayCars. The site offered numerous makes and models in a virtual environment. The cars could be rotated for different angles and providing customers with unique vantage points. Paint hues could be changed, and online shoppers could open the doors of the vehicle and look inside at the different features.
Although consumers couldn’t physically touch the cars, they could interact with the vehicle online. If they were interested, they could then contact their local dealership for more information about the car or to perhaps schedule a test drive. Virtual showrooms provide customers a way to sort through different models and car options to find their favorites.
Interacting with the vehicle—even just virtually—allowed the consumer to collect information about a particular model and decide whether or not they wanted to see the car up close. Some shoppers were happy to keep their car shopping completely virtual. A shopper might have previewed a car via a virtual showroom, scheduled the car to be delivered for a test drive and then completed loan paperwork online, too (if that was an option in their state). Car dealerships even delivered the car to the home!
The Virtual Future
Even when Covid becomes a worry of the past, businesses might have pivoted to virtual experiences permanently. Shoppers may once again be able to visit stores in-person and try on clothes, but virtual experiences may always have a place in the user experience.
Before Covid, online shopping surged in popularity. According to Statista: “In 2019, an estimated 1.92 billion people purchased goods or services online. During the same year, e-retail sales surpassed 3.5 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide….”
Online shopping is convenient. For those who just don’t want to drive to the store or simply don’t have the time, online experiences provide a way to find needed—and wanted—items without leaving home. Clothes, makeup and even cars are delivered right to the door.
Elevated online experiences may keep visitors engaged with the site. Stylists and other experts may offer their services to provide guidance and advice on purchases. Classes can introduce new experiences to customers and perhaps leave them wanting more products and interactive offerings to add engagement. Those on the hunt for bigger purchases—including a new car—also can utilize virtual showrooms to preview and explore new makes and models, allowing the shopper to whittle down their choices and pursue only the vehicles that are top on their purchase list.
Although car shopping may return to in-person experiences, the virtual showroom may continue to be a relevant tool for customers who are just beginning to search for a new vehicle; in the future, dealership visits may be more thoughtful, with consumers knowing ahead of the visit which cars are on their must-have list…and which models don’t meet their needs.