Virtual and augmented reality continue to unfold
Tools such as digital signage kiosks are already introducing consumers to VR and AR experiences, according to a panel of experts at the Interactive Customer Experience Summit in Dallas. VR and AR are evolving quickly, and retailers are increasingly making use of the technologies.
While the session, moderated by Brandon Elliott, senior director of digital products at HMSHost, covered many aspects of the multi-faceted VR and AR technologies, it didn't take long for some kiosk applications to emerge.
Under Armour Virtual Brandhouse
One of the most successful VR projects discussed was the Under Armour Virtual Brandhouse, an unattended VR experience that actually won the ICX "Influencer of the Year" award presented during the Summit. The consumer peers into a "periscope" built into a wall and gets a virtual tour of the apparel store.
The "periscope" is actually a modified Oculus Rift unit that hangs like a viewfinder on an armature, which eliminates the hurdle of having to strap the user in a headset or having store associates assist. Upon entering the tour, the consumer is greeted by a video recording of Boston Red Sox favorite, Jackie Bradley, Jr. who welcomes them as a guest and guides them on the tour of the store.
People were actually waiting in in line to share the experience, said panelist Alan Hughes, founder and chief creative officer of NEXT/NOW, the company that created the Virtual Brandhouse. He referred to the Virtual Brandhouse as "reality plus."
NEXT/NOW, a company that uses digital technology to bring VR and AR to retail, also created a digital face painting kiosk for Intel that has been featured in Best Buy stores, the Super Bowl and various festivals. When the consumer places their face in front of the kiosk, they are given a choice of four different AR masks.
"If you see your face and it's augmented, you're probably going to play around with it," said Hughes. "The public is craving these VR experiences."
Hughes believes VR and AR will find a place in retail environments faster than in the homeowner market. But for this to happen, retailers need to add value.
Why VR and AR are growing
Steve Chen, managing director at Float Hybrid Entertainment, an interactive experience agency in San Francisco, said VR and AR create what's known as "immersion," which refers to complete involvement in some interest or activity.
"It's where your emotions live, it's where your motivations and instincts live," Chen said. "It's where your fight and flight lives." He said immersion is based on neuroscience.
Creating immersion requires creating physiological, emotional and relevant content. Combining these three things creates a memorable experience.
Retail applications emerge
See's Candies at the San Francisco International Airport offers an AR experience for customers. A video on Float's website shows patrons approaching a big screen and finding themselves staring back at their reflection, but immersed in a snow-covered store. They watch as their reflection changes into that of a snowman. When they wave their arms, the snowman waves back.
A Float mixed reality experience for a John Deere visitor center gives people the sense of moving up and down in a tractor combine cabin surrounded by the sounds and smells of a farm field. This is also a non-headset based mixed reality experience.
One factor limiting virtual and augmented reality today is cost. An immersive headset today costs $3,000. But in time, cost will come down.
"We're learning the language of VR just like we were learning the language of film," Chen said.
What about ROI?
Asked how return on investment is calculated, Chen said there are different approaches. John Deere measured consumer engagement as opposed to the number of tractors sold.
Hughes said the benefit to a brand is the amount of "buzz" the experience creates, which can be measured by social media activity. Brands also assign dollar amounts to the number of emails they receive.
As customer interactive technology evolves and assumes a bigger role in retailing, the unattended retail sector is bound to become a critical part of the picture.
Looking for more great insight and expert discussion relating to customer experience? Attend the upcoming CONNECT 2017/The Mobile CX Summit taking place August 21-23 in Philadelphia. The event will explore the many opportunities that retailers, restaurants and other B2C enterprises have for leveraging mobile and digital channels to build their brands, increase sales and improve customer engagement, experience and loyalty.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.