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07.19.16

Is it Time to Make Virtual Reality a Reality for Your Business?

virtual_reality_discover_smallSource: Discover

Interest in virtual reality (VR) has been bubbling up in tech circles for a while, but 2016 could be the year it finally boils over into the mainstream consumer market. The two high-profile, high-end VR competitors, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, launched this spring, making new levels of VR immersion possible. Simultaneously, the mobile VR market is receiving a boost with Samsung giving away hundreds of thousands of its Gear VR headsets to anyone purchasing a new Galaxy S7 smartphone. Google also announced that more than 5 million people have purchased its low-end VR solution, Google Cardboard, which delivers VR to anyone with an Android or Apple smartphone.[1]

Now is an excellent time to capitalize on the interest in VR. Whether that takes the form of an on-site display or an in-home customer experience will depend on your business.

“While we’re in the early days of virtual reality applications in retail and payments, the opportunities are endless to leverage the power of VR to demonstrate products, solutions or experiences, and connect it to a customer purchase,” said Soumya Chakrabarty, director of research and development at Discover. “For any business with a product or service to showcase, virtual reality enables your customer to experience it personally, which could drive them to make the purchase when they may not have otherwise.”

Here are some examples of VR solutions currently on the market:

The Test Drive

We’ve seen luxury auto manufacturers become an early adopter of VR technology, enabling customers to outfit any of its vehicles exactly as they wish by using VR devices at the dealership.[2] After designing the vehicle, the customer can then take a close-up look at their handiwork by walking around the vehicle and opening doors and the trunk, walking directly through the vehicle or sitting in the driver’s seat. To ramp up the entertainment factor, automakers even tossed in some whimsical fun—letting prospective customers view the completed vehicles in impossible locations, such as the on the moon or on Mars.

This is a perfect example of how to implement VR for a specific business type. This example takes an existing paradigm that customers understand—vehicle configuration—and improves the experience while adding an element of entertainment. This use of VR grabs the customer’s attention and gets them talking.

The Walk-Through

Real estate is another industry excited by the prospects for VR. Products such as 360-degree cameras are now available for just a few hundred dollars and enable fast and easy capture of images to create a VR walk-through of properties. Using a studio and high-end VR hardware is possible and would perhaps make sense for commercial or high-value residential clients, but you can also create an engaging customer experience with lower-end hardware.[3]

This VR implementation plays on familiar concepts—both a physical walk-through as well as an online photo gallery of a property. The VR experience saves the client (and realtor) the travel time of visiting every property and also provides a visual experience comparable to a physical visit.

The Tour

Travel agencies are leveraging VR video to give clients a taste of potential vacation destinations, and one company is reporting a 190 percent increase in revenue on trips promoted using this method.[4] After the one-time cost of the video production, videos can be sent to customers to view at home with a VR device in order to give virtual tours and allow them to experience a certain locale.

The Branded Experience

The previous examples all offer clear utility as well as the wow factor of VR, but there are many companies using the technology to sell existing products. One popular outdoor brand created an exhibit for the Sundance Film Festival that simulated hiking along a ridge and rickety bridge high in the mountains.[5] Television producers can get in on the action by creating specific show-themed experiences for viewers at expos or gatherings. These experiences are pure brand awareness plays—an effective use of VR in these early days.

Time to Invest in VR?

VR isn’t the right fit for every business, but that’s just as much of an advantage as a caution. A well-considered VR experience today can be a transformative experience for your customers, and may set you on the path to capitalize on this platform as it continues to grow in the coming years.

This article was brought to you by Discover Network. For more insights into consumer trends and the world of payments, visit Discover Network Perspectives.

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Footnotes

[1] Google Blog, Jan. 27, 2016: “(Un)folding a Virtual Journey with Google Cardboard”

[2] Fortune, Jan. 8, 2016: “Audi Drives Virtual Reality Showroom with HTC Vive”

[3] New York Times, February 12, 2016: “A New Dimension in Home Buying: Virtual Reality”

[4] Bloomberg, June 19, 2015: “How Oculus and Cardboard Are Going to Rock the Travel Industry”

[5] Adweek, February 6, 2015: “Merrell Thrills and Frightens People With a Crazy Oculus Rift Mountainside Hike”

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