The global Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) market size is forecast to reach USD 30.7 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow by USD 125.19 billion during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of over 35%. Although AR and VR are commonly used for games and entertainment, these figures indicate a decisive drive to leverage these emerging technologies in all major industries across the globe.
Businesses are beginning to see the lucrative impact VR and AR can have on enhancing their customer experience (CX). This comes at a time where companies are on the lookout for new ways to bolster customer connections, and VR and AR are proving to be new opportunities to create unique experiences.
Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation where users can physically interact within an artificially created 3D environment using electronic devices (headset and gloves/hand-operated consoles fitted with sensors). A user’s physical presence is digitised, giving the feeling of experiencing this virtual world in a physical manner. Supported by both visual and auditory cues designed to enhance realism, VR allows you to perceive and function in a simulated reality much like you would in the real world. VR entirely replaces reality with a digital simulation designed to create a transformative experience.
Augmented Reality (AR) is different from VR as it allows users to see and interact with computer-generated objects that are layered on top of the real world. In the retail space, AR allows customers to see what a product would potentially look like in their home before buying it. With VR, customers are treated to an immersive experience where they are able to walk through a virtual store and purchase items on the go.
Recent surveys show that customers are 86% more likely to pay more for a product or service when they receive great customer experience. With VR, businesses are able to create revolutionary customer experiences that are unlike anything ever seen before. As the technology evolves and the hardware (headsets, consoles, etc.) becomes more affordable, businesses will be able to add new elements into their environments continuously at a fraction of brick and mortar costs. Surveys show that 84% of stakeholders forecast VR to surpass in-store CX initiatives in the next 5 years.
VR is changing how we shop on an immense scale as it immerses us into a virtual store where we can browse, shop, and get real-time virtual assistance from the comfort of our homes. This means our shopping experiences are not limited by time or location, resulting in a truly global shopping experience with minimal effort. With much of the logistical hassle removed from the shopping experience, customers are far more inclined to browse and try new products they otherwise wouldn’t.
VR creates an entirely immersive experience that provides a profound sensory impact which establishes a strong emotional connection with users. Businesses can leverage this connection to engage with customers in innovative and meaningful ways. When customers are more emotionally engaged with a brand they are more likely to make repeat purchases and become lifelong brand loyalists. For the first time, VR presents customers with the opportunity to enjoy an immersive shopping experience that feels like they are physically and emotionally engaging with a brand: we’ve come a long way from poster prints!
VR gives users a highly realistic level of experience which we naturally relate to on an emotional level as we do our own reality. Marketers can develop a range of exciting, exhilarating, scary, and even emotional VR campaigns to present products in new ways. For example, The North Face outdoor apparel brand launched an immersive VR experience of the Nepal landscape to allow customers to identify with the brand’s identity. Successful marketing campaigns are ones that tap into a particular human emotion: when people can identify with a brand or product on an emotional level they are far more inclined to make a purchase.
VR presents a new age of ‘try before you buy’. Shoppers are no longer required to travel in-store to test out a new product, nor do they have to make an online purchase from a catalogue only to realise it doesn’t suit their needs at home. VR allows shoppers to try, test, and play around with products in a virtual simulation to get a real-world experience of using the product. IKEA famously created a virtual product testing shopping experience which allowed shoppers to try out products before making the decision to purchase. Alibaba did the same a few years ago which saw a dramatic spike in sales.
Customer services departments have been dramatically improved in recent times thanks to the power of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants. But the implementation of VR into the customer service field is proving to be a game-changer. Remote troubleshooting is a difficult aspect of customer service to get right via chatbots. But when both parties are able to see what the other is looking at and experiencing, issues both simple and complex can be resolved in a shorter space of time. There is no better way for businesses to show how much they value their customers than by implementing effective customer service initiatives, and VR is the most sophisticated form of this we have.
Of course, VR has been able to flex its benefits to a wider audience thanks to the pandemic, where the world has been forced to undergo strict social distancing measures. Many businesses and sectors have been negatively affected by the prohibition of in-person gatherings: we can’t go to the movies, theatre, some shopping centres, art galleries, music concerts, etc. But thanks to VR technology, we are able to attend concerts and performances virtually.
We are able to visit tourist sites and cities all over the world, safely and virtually from the comfort of our homes. We are even able to virtually attend theatre productions, walking tours, and music concerts without having to dodge infection and stand in long queues. These are just a few examples of the myriad of ways businesses that usually rely on foot traffic are able to bring virtual experiences to audiences to create powerful CX in challenging times.
Creating powerful, thoughtful, and meaningful customer experiences is crucial for a business’s survival in an age where technology is powering how we interact with brands. Immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are revolutionising the way we operate and can make customers feel special, empowered, and valued by brands. This makes them our best asset when devising a powerful CX strategy to help establish strong customer relationships based on immersive and emotive engagement which can result in lifelong loyalty.
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