LOCKDOWN IS OVER…WHY IS EVERYONE STILL CREATING VIRTUAL SHOWROOMS?
Buying online is extremely convenient but there’s always going to be something missing. No matter how many pictures you see and how many reviews you read, it is never going to feel the same as holding the product in your own hands.
e-commerce has spent the last two decades trying to make up for this by refining the customer’s journey.
In the endless pursuit of a smoother transition from discovery to checkout, these last couple of decades, have seen photos and videos, become the norm for product descriptions. Now innovative companies are adding experiences to listings and creating entire virtual environments for prospective buyers to enter, explore and interact with their products in the first person.
WHAT IS A VIRTUAL SHOWROOM?
A virtual showroom is essentially a 3D digital world that was built to showcase products.
They take many forms; luxury stores, exhibition centres and car showrooms are all common, but there are no rules. You could build yours on the back of a giant turtle if the experience was on brand.
Inside a virtual showroom, you can move around the environment, lift coat hangers off racks, and rotate and inspect products. It’s a digital recreation of a brick and mortar store, often created with a great emphasis on emulating the human experience.
A virtual showroom with a fitting room for example is where you’d try on a watch or scarf to see how it looks on a lifelike avatar that shares your face and body. And since you’re in VR you can swap out styles and colours effortlessly, and compare options side by side, by simply clicking buttons.
Ultimately the goal is to make sales and achieve other tangible results, so brands include CTAs to “schedule a virtual appointment” or “set up a demonstration” or take the shopper straight to a checkout counter if they are ready to commit to a purpose. Everything that’s done in a store can be handled on a virtual showroom platform.
WHY VR (Virtual Reality) HEADSETS?
Words cannot do VR justice. It’s something you need to try for yourself.
Wearing a Virtual Reality headset you can no longer see the real world around you. All of your vision has been hijacked. That alone is a marketer’s dream but it’s not the main reason companies use VR to show off products.
To look around in VR you simply turn your head. To tie a shoelace or turn the pages of a book, you use your real fingers. Modern hand-tracking is accurate, modern graphics are crisps and there’s no longer any nausea or discomfort when using this tech.
And then the strangest thing happens. After a few minutes of being amazed, you stop thinking about it. How often do you pay attention to the realness of your own reality? Never, right! our monkey brains take it as it comes. At this point, you’re fully immersed and interacting natively in the way you’re used to experiencing the universe.
If you’re looking at a shoe and thinking “do I like it?” on a regular e-commerce store, you’ll flick between photos to try to recreate a 3D version of the product in your mind’s eye. In a VR virtual showroom, you’d turn that shoe over with your hand, and you wouldn’t have to think about it either.
Dimensions in a virtual showroom get so accurate that you can use a tape measure to check whether a new bathtub fits in the bathroom at home.
WHY NOW IS THE RIGHT TIME FOR YOUR BUSINESS TO CONSIDER A VIRTUAL SHOWROOM?
The two most cited motivations are an increase in sales and engagement.
After all, customers spend 5 to 10 times longer on websites with VR experiences.
Attention is a precious commodity. VR is new and people are excited to try it. Once you have attention VR lets you do more with it.
Paired with animations a virtual showroom can explain a textbook’s worth of complex concepts with minimal effort on the viewer’s part. That’s why they are used at tradeshows and events to accelerate consumer research.
COVID-19 FORCED BEHAVIOUR CHANGES AND FUNNELED BILLIONS TOWARDS E-COMMERCE.
Obviously, with shops closed and most of the world experiencing lockdowns, e-commerce exploded in popularity. Humanity purchased items online in greater numbers and from a wider array of categories than at any other time in history. It’s likely changed online shopping forever and will be the subject of many future business textbooks.
– In 2020, online revenue growth was up 44% and in Q1, 2021 it increased 39% year-over-year.
– Customer loyalty plummeted, with buyers switching brands at unprecedented rates.
– COVID-19 Accelerated an already strong trend towards buying big-ticket items sight unseen.
To examine how this affected virtual showrooms consider how Diesel respond to the complete shutdown of their industry. They partnered with Accenture Interactive to create the HypeRoom the company’s first attempt in its 40+ year history.
“thanks to HypeRoom, we don’t produce any more physical collections, but we only have a digital collection. The orders are digitally placed there. And so the whole system has completely inverted the way of doing business, becoming more efficient, less expensive, and if you want also sustainable. The power of this tool is much bigger. And so now what we are working is a sort of like HypeRoom 2.0 where are basically from a digital showroom experience it becomes a B2B platform that, to be honest, does not exist in the market.” – CEO of Diesel
BMW, Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes all launched virtual showrooms for the first time in 2020.
Ikea is a world leader when it comes to DX and already had a virtual show, but they acquired an AR start-up during the pandemic to try and improve the range of remote viewing experiences they offer.
Even if the pandemic ends tomorrow, it’s apparent that behaviour changes have been set in motion, and your competitors are already responding.
VIRTUAL TRADE SHOWS AND EVENTS STARTED IN 2020
In January, CNS 2021 (the largest annual tradeshow in the US) was hosted online for the first time.
Unfortunately, rather than creating a metaverse style 3D environment for people to walk around and interact in, it was a sequential string of speeches and pitches.
There was no walking the virtual floor, and none of the interaction or wonder of discovery that comes with attending a digital trade show.
The more forward-thinking NECA Convention did create a virtual floor and enabled members to explore and interact and even go between floors in the elevator together.
The feedback is much more positive around this experience. Their next exhibit, NECA 2021 was in early October and was a hybrid with both virtual and physical components.
“NECA’s in-person attendance is usually around 8,000–10,000 and the digital event attracted 5,104 live participants — of which 1,200 were first-timers working in the electrical construction industry.” – Beth Ellis Executive Director at NECA.
HOW VR IS USED AT PHYSICAL TRADE SHOWS
If you frequent exhibitions you’d have noticed that every year there are more VR headsets than the last.
There are some very good motivations driving this trend. Let’s talk about them.
1. VR helps explain complicated products through animation and demonstration
B2B products are typically more complex than B2C, so you need to get creative when tasked with explaining how they work.
Another sector that’s extremely interested in VR is education. In VR you can blend digital experiences with incredible realism. By animating and annotating you can visually break your product down for the viewer piece by piece while inserting metrics and micro-demonstrations that highlight benefits and handle objections. Virtual showrooms take show don’t tell to a whole another level.
2. Cost benefits of virtual manufacturing and a booth that fits in a backpack
Exhibition stands cost tens of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to get fabricated.
If you’re going to shows all around the country or world you need to pay to ship bulky equipment from place to place and plan it all a week in advance. Then once your team arrives they need to assemble the booth.
VR can emulate the outcome of all that costly manufacturing in the digital world. The experiences aren’t cheap to create, but that one-off cost is for an experience that will last forever, and if it’s any good pay for itself many times over.
3. Virtual sales agents free up human sales agents making them more effective
A good VR showroom should re-create some of the human elements of the experience of visiting a store. This can be done by adding a human-looking concierge, enabling cooperative experiences, or including chatbots or another channel to take and respond to questions.
By outsourcing these elements of interaction, your sales agent won’t be spread thin by pleasantries. The best thing about this is it scales indefinitely. If your booth is so popular that the limiting reagent is headsets, then just get more headsets.
Used this way VR can lower the cost of staffing while delivering natural, conscientious experiences at scale.
WHAT CAN A CUSTOMER ACTUALLY DO IN A VIRTUAL SHOWROOM?
That’s entirely up to you. Headsets have interactive capabilities and VR experiences are powered by fully-fledged game engines which can add physics into the 3D world. Anything that’s possible in a video game is possible in a virtual showroom.
It’s possible to open up a bag and examine the interior stitching and the design, before drop-kicking it into the sun.
IKEA has instore virtual showrooms, that let a user decorate a room with furniture from its catalogue.
“Visitors are able to explore and configure furniture items and their environmental context in real-time. In the blink of an eye, they can try different fabrics, swap the wall colour and even change the time of day to see their combinations in a different light. It empowers the visitor to visualize their own taste, inspire and expand their mind with new ideas.” – Demodern
The application is actively collecting analytics about what users choose to get more data which will inform future development of the app, digitalization strategy, and product.
In 2017, Lowe’s Innovation Labs took a VR simulation to a bunch of trade shows that let users renovate houses in extreme detail. They had prospects waiting in line to spread grout and lay tiles.
That’s how powerful VR experiences are. This technology is so new and exciting that people will watch paint dry.
2019’s Sky Atlantic’s TV show Britannia got a fully immersive and interactive trailer/digital VR experience to build hype for their second season. The user can perform a little witchcraft, play Celtic drums and communicate with characters from the series. It’s a very impressive way to demo a new season, and it’s taking a lot of willpower to not go binge the whole series right now.
So yeah. A customer can do anything, even magic in a VR showroom. We’ve seen car driving simulators, massive free-roam virtual markets, VR accommodation demonstrations and more.
VIRTUAL SHOWROOMS VS 360 PHOTO-BASED TOURS
360-degree videos or photos are taken with a special type of camera that either rotates on a tripod taking photos as it spins, or the camera is in the shape of a ball or cylinder and has multiple lenses all pointing off in different directions to capture the entire 360-degree view.
A 360-degree photo or video is a useful tool, but it’s an illusion. There aren’t three dimensions of information. Everything you see is either from one picture or another. As you rotate the image clockwise, you’re just moving over to the picture taken by the next lens on the right.
A 3D rendered tour on the other hand is made by creating a virtual 3D model. It’s more than a collection of photos. Every item in the space is also a 3D model and has real dimensions. Every wall has length and width and breadth. Every step causes another rendering to adjust positions so there is no distortion when you look around and find problems with how the photos have been merged together.
Another major difference is you can’t animate a 360-degree photo, or apply physics, interactive or lighting. You can’t change from twilight to sunset to show off a set at different times of the day. You can’t flip between product variants or model a prototype to demo and sell products before they exist.
Web-based (WebGL) virtual showrooms
The advantage of using WebGL compared to software that needs to be installed locally is that you can serve a VR experience to any browser over the internet. So, the users don’t have to install any software locally on their devices.
WebGL can be converted to VR by drawing the image twice, once for each eye, and it’s possible to access hardware like the headset or controllers via another API called WebXR.
WebGL can basically turn your website into a virtual showroom. Instead of having boring static product images on your online shop, you can have 3D models of your product, 3D trials for your products, and even 3D virtual tours of your factory or physical outlet. And all of this is happening on your web page, without the users experiencing any lag or having to install any software/plug-in.
A virtual showroom created with WebGL is easier for the user. Just type the address into the URL bar or click a link and the experience will start. When you consider that A 3 second loading time leads to a bounce rate of 32%, 5 seconds leading to 90%, there’s a strong case for making your online content as easy to access as possible.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO DESIGN AND DEVELOP A VIRTUAL SHOWROOM?
It depends on the complexity of the showroom and If there are any animations involved and the level of interactivity required.
If we are talking about a full VR virtual showroom then you’re looking at 20k – 50k. For complex VR experiences and mini-games, this figure can reach 250k.
If that’s out of budget, Matterport showrooms are a more affordable option, but the tradeoff is that they aren’t interactive or VR. For them, we charge $1 + GST per sqm
CAN A VIRTUAL TOUR BE CONNECTED TO AN EXISTING ONLINE STORE?
The virtual showroom can be launched from your website.
The user can also make purchases inside the showroom, and they’ll be added to their cart on your existing store. So in short, yes a virtual showroom can be added to your existing online store.
Your virtual tour can use the same backend, ordering system, and any information that exists in your database can be sent directly into the showroom.
This means you can have authentication and close off different areas in the virtual showroom to different types of users or personalise the experience for each user.
Speaking of personalising the experiences for each user, you can also set up video chat-based ‘guided tours’ of your virtual space. A sales agent can talk the prospective buyer through the offer and explain how it works in real-time.
LET’S WRAP THIS UP
To sum it up, virtual showrooms are a cost-efficient way of delivering unique and immersive shopping experiences to your consumers.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of virtual showrooms with companies like BMW, Mercedes and Toyota trying them out for the first time in 2020.
Virtual showrooms are different to 360-degree photos because they aren’t photos at all. A virtual showroom is a 3D digital world complete with dimensions and for more advanced experiences physics and interactivity.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you’d like to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in virtual reality and augmented reality and learn more about the many applications of VR in business then give our team a call on 1300 00 3392 or email us. We’re here and ready to brainstorm your ideas.