5 virtual experience trends in retail and commerce in 2021

Virtual experiences have been booming in retail and e-commerce. And it’s no wonder.

VR and AR offer a ton of benefits to companies that sell products online, or use online channels to divert traffic to stores or sales professionals. These experiences can increase conversions, boost word-of-mouth traffic, and lower return rates.

Want to see some examples?

In this article, we detail the top benefits of virtual experiences for retail, showcase 5 stellar examples, and present the challenges that development teams face.

Top benefits of virtual experience for retail and e-commerce

Before we take a look at some of the top trends in virtual experience, let’s first dive into the benefits of building such a complex feature in the first place.

Increased conversion rates

  • More engaged time spent on the website or app
  • Fewer purchasing objections with “try before you buy” capabilities
  • Lower return rates

Combat negative impact of online-only shopping

COVID-19 has flattened many industries but fortunately, most retail brands already had a good online presence, with either their own websites or online distribution channels. But in 2020, even more effort was placed on bringing shopping online.

Word-of-mouth traffic

Another benefit of building VR or AR into your app or website is of course the word-of-mouth traffic you’ll get.

This traffic can come in multiple formats:

  • Customers posting screenshots of the virtual experience on social media
  • Customers DMing or emailing screenshots to ask for opinions on their purchase
  • Customers telling friends and family about the virtual experience in person after receiving a compliment about the product

Virtual experience trends and examples

Clearly, virtual experience offers a ton of business benefits. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that VR and AR are currently being used in online retail applications.

Virtual test drives and interactive video for car sales

WheelsTV is a virtual test drive and interactive video provider for brand-owned and independent car dealerships. Business owners and sales managers report that customers stay on their website for much longer and that sales have increased as well.

The video platform can be used on dealers’ websites to provide detailed visuals on all of the car makes and models that they carry. Shoppers can easily see and interact with any feature of the car, as well as watch it drive on a simulated road from both inside and outside the vehicle.

Visualizing wall art and decor

One of Etsy’s biggest categories is home decor, so it’s no wonder that the company chose this product category for its first foray into augmented reality. The Etsy app allows users to place a preview of potential art purchases on their walls, thus augmenting their own rooms to get a good sense of whether that’s the right purchase for them.

Virtual try-on for make-up

Virtual try-on for glasses

Warby Parker offers affordable glasses with the opportunity to give back, and while the retailer does have some physical locations in big cities across the US, most of its customers can’t easily access one of the stores. Initially, Warby Parker customers would use the company’s at-home try-on offer and would choose three pairs of non-prescription glasses to receive via mail and then ship back after making their purchasing decision.

Today however, the Warby Parker app makes the try-on even simpler, with an app that lets you swipe right and left to try on different glasses. This is AR shopping at its finest.

Augmented reality for furniture shopping

IKEA is another example of a large brand that offers a virtual shopping experience to its customers. Its app, called IKEA Place, allows users to test out true-to-scale models of IKEA furniture products in their own rooms at home. They can also pull products from inspiring images to test out, and browse pre-selected furniture sets to make the interior design process as fool-proof as possible.

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The opportunities and challenges with virtual experiences in e-commerce

Of course, with any software this complex comes multiple challenges. Companies might struggle to provide a high quality experience that actually translates into real sales.

App strategy and turning AR into sales

Just because you build something doesn’t mean it will drive revenue. Any experienced executive knows this to be true.

Ultimately, a virtual experience should solve a problem, which all of the above examples do well. It’s challenging to spend all day at car dealers. Use interactive video instead. It’s hard to find affordable glasses that look great. Try them on virtually.

Consider what shopping problem your website or app users, and build the experience to solve it.

Any other approach could waste resources and frustrate users.

Software testing expertise and capacity

Writing automated test scripts that cover the complex gestures made in virtual experiences will be a challenge. What’s more automated testing won’t help you discover issues like image quality, proportion, and realism.

The ultimate goal is to provide an amazing at-home experience for online shoppers. To do that, you need skilled manual testers who can check for not only functionality but that real-world usage meets quality standards under a variety of environments.

As more business shifts to online models in 2021, we’ll undoubtedly see an increase in virtual reality. Even when shops open back up around the world, plenty of shoppers will continue to use the convenience of at-home try on and testing experiences.

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