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Welcome to the virtually augmented high street

Welcome to the virtually augmented high street

The high street is dead - long live the King. According to The Local Data Company 5,839 outlets closed on UK high streets in 2014. As consumers begin to turn their backs on traditional means of commerce and look to the fresh avenues of new technologies; just what role does virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) play in this cultural shift?

Picture, if you will, looking into a VR headset and being transported to the pristine pavement outside of a trendy Regent Street store. You enter through the virtual doors; peruse fine jewellery before turning your head to a custom made pair of trousers – just for you. This is the vision for a VR shopping experience.

Sounds ludicrous, right? But hold your horses as many companies – Opposable VR included – have begun working with brands to create virtual reality experiences. Hotel chain Marriot Hotels worked with developers to create the Marriot Teleporter – in which users stepped through a portal from the cold streets of New York to the sunshine beaches of Hawaii. One question to ask is ‘why?’ To which Marriot’s VP of global brand marketing, Michael Dail, replied: ‘Marriot needed to build credibility with younger travellers.’ If hotel chains are looking to VR as the future means of reaching an ever-tech savvy audience, what can high street brands do?

New technology is not a new thing to high street stores. Eye care specialists Specsavers released a mobile app via the App Store in which users used a scan of their own face as means to model different styles of glasses. Dulux created an AR app in which users could change the colour of the walls in their home. Argos’ mobile shopping app has made the company’s iconic catalogue a relic.

According to The Local Data Company report, the types of high street shops seeing the biggest decline are clothes and shoe shops. Perhaps this is where VR can come to the rescue? Marketing agency SapientNitro certainly think so. Teaming up with luxury boutique The Line, SapientNitro worked with developers to create a full VR replica of the ‘The Apartment’ – the brand’s Manhattan store.   

With the help of a Samsung Gear VR and a Galaxy Note 4, users are able to move around the store via hotspots. From these points they are able to handle an item in 3D, hear an audio description of it, see its price and, ultimately, add it to a virtual basket. VR is the point at which online e-shopping merges with the sensations of ‘real world’ shopping.

But is this the future? According to industry analyst Marshal Cohen it is: ‘Retail does have to change, and virtual reality is a big part of it.’  Whilst VR might not completely eradicate the bricks and mortar stores of the high street, it allows customers to explore the thrill of retail therapy in their own living room, or on a tropical beach or even on the Moon. Perhaps a middle ground will be found in which VR becomes a planning tool for trying on items of clothing or investigating furniture before buying it in real life. Here at Opposable VR high-end car brands are looking to us to create VR marketing experiences for their cars. Try before you buy! With the added twist of the artistic creativity only VR can afford – test-drive an SUV through Jurassic Park? Yes please! VR even has the potential to adapt a virtual store to reflect a customer’s buying habits and tastes in a more immersive evolution of Amazon’s recommendations.

Initial uptake of high street stores to VR is expected to be slow – new technologies are scary – but as new technologies become the norm those brands that ignore the potential for VR might find themselves left behind. Consider Michael Dail’s words about wanting to ‘build credibility’ with new markets – those brands seen at the forefront of using VR (or any new technology) as part of their business plans will find themselves with a positive technology image.

Topshop, one of Britain’s biggest fashion retailers, worked with VR developers to create an award-winning VR catwalk experience. The goal, to make fashion shows accessible to the consumer. Whilst this experience only offered a form of cultural escapism – from the high street to a high-end fashion show – the potential to combine such experiences with e-shopping could take the retail experience to a whole new, and lucrative, level.

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