Sales Floor Tech: Virtual Reality Showrooms

Augmented and virtual reality allow manufacturers and showroom managers to tap into people’s love of technology in an exciting, innovative way.

With a proven ability to increase brand awareness and profitability, virtual reality is becoming a technology of choice among retailers in all industries.

Here’s how a few leading brands are using AR and VR, and how you can incorporate the technology to create stronger customer experiences.

How AR and VR Benefit Your Bottom Line

It’s important to understand the difference between AR and VR technology.

L.E.K. Consulting managing director Dan McKone explains that virtual reality “immerses the consumer in a simulated world” and usually requires headsets and a controller. Alternatively, augmented reality “overlays virtual elements onto the real world as seen through a smartphone or tablet.”

So how can AR and VR benefit your business?

First of all, digital showrooms significantly reduce the need for inventory. This reduces costs and resources for retailers while improving the experience for customers. So, instead of leaving the store with shopping bags, Sharon Gaudin points out that customers will turn to in-store retailers who deliver products to their homes.

Another benefit of AR and VR, according to writer Anita Shaw, is that digital experiences support a more streamlined internal business process, which can improve business outcomes.

“It’s not just design that today’s software influences, but also the ability to connect the process with budgets, measurements, invoices and all of the business elements as well,” Shaw says. “That can make for a faster, more efficient sell to the customer.”

And as more retailers take advantage of this technology, LNG Studios says it’s begun replacing traditional showrooms altogether.

Enhancing the Showroom Experience

Augmented and virtual reality take traditional modeling methods, like 2D rendering and blueprinting, to the next level.

As Peter Alden, VP of sales at Floored, explains, “An image or a rendering may be beautiful, but they leave a lot of questions unanswered.” VR answers these questions by providing a realistic product experience that customers can interact with and visualize.

In a bathroom showroom, for example, customers gain access to finishes, lighting options and other physical elements. According to The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), these virtual reality tools help customers establish stronger, more emotional connections with the product.

Improving Customer Confidence

Another reason digital showrooms are effective is because they are enticing for nearly every demographic, says consumer experience and retail writer Bryan Pearson. While it’s usually adults who engage with digital showrooms, the technologies’ interesting, experiential nature appeals to younger family members, who are then able to offer their own informed opinions about a purchase.

In addition to gaining family buy-in, Hatfield Builders and Remodelers explains that these powerful visualizations help customers feel more confident about their purchase decisions. As the outcome of their investment is much more clear, there’s less risk and hesitation standing in the way of buying something.

VR experiences also make it easier to identify and solve client issues, which improves client retention. Taylor Cupp, project solutions technologist at Mortenson Construction, says VR came to their rescue when Penn State had a question about materials used in a rock climbing wall.

Mortensen used the technology to provide Penn State with a direct simulation of what scaling the wall would look like, which cleared up any confusion about the project. This shows how VR technology opens a discussion about product capabilities, and customers can for the first time see and feel how a new product would function.

VR in Home Improvement

For home owners, retailers and contractors, VR significantly improves the buying and remodeling process. Specifically, the technology helps all parties understand the scope of a project. In turn, CORE Remodeling Services adds that this minimizes errors in the remodel and keeps the project moving along according to schedule.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs is one company that’s leading the way in creating cutting edge VR experiences for the home improvement space. As part of the company’s bathroom fixing initiative, customers are given up to 20 minutes with a virtual reality headset, which they can use to explore a small room and learn bathroom remodeling essentials.

Lowe’s also teamed up with Marxent to use its VisualCommerce tool in an immersive experience called Holoroom. This technology expands on VR technology by providing 3D bathroom experiences that customers can assemble and purchase.

Virtual Reality in Real Estate

VR also makes it easier for home sellers and buyers to develop realistic expectations of a space.

DMI CIO Magnus Jern says that many potential buyers experience frustration when they come to view a house that doesn’t look like the photos on the website. When realtors use virtual reality to show a highly realistic home walkthrough, such problems no longer matter.

“It would be perfectly possible to host an open house, with thousands in attendance, and still maintain the impression of a quiet space,” Jern says.

Home goods and furniture manufacturers can benefit from this technology by helping customers visualize products in their homes. For example, RoOomy is a virtual reality company that helps realtors stage properties in 3D. The company is pioneering virtual reality in both real estate and retail by allowing customers to test out furniture in a digitally rendered space of their choice.

RoOomy differs from traditional 2D and 3D visualization tools because it allows customers to convert a 2D photo into a 3D space at a rapid scale. Tech writer Barry Levine says it also “converts 2D images of furniture in participating retailers’ catalogs into 3D objects in real time.”

This creates more opportunities for partnerships between online retailers who sell furniture, appliances, home improvement services and more.

VR in eCommerce

Similarly to RoOomy, ecommerce retailer The Blue Space invites customers to an online showroom to see how its products would look in their kitchens and bathrooms. Jen Bishop of Interior Addict says that this experience is 99.9 percent dimensionally accurate, with hyper-realistic representations of situations such as how natural lighting changes throughout the day.

The Blue Space managing director Josh Mammoliti says of the experience: “You can ‘live in it’ before you buy. It helps with choice, saves time and reduces the risk of buying something you don’t actually like.”

Amazon is also trying out the “try before you buy” concept in virtual retail experiences. The company is experimenting with digital showrooms that allow customers to see and experience products in an in-store environment.

AP retail writer Anne D’Innocenzio says that rather than standing in line to purchase items, “sensors track items as shoppers put them into baskets or return them to the shelf.” Then, the customer’s Amazon account is charged automatically.

Whether you’re an online retailer or a brick-and-mortar store, there are endless opportunities for creating a virtual retail experience that drives results.

images by: Wendy Julianto, Kirk Fisher