Beyond The Physical World: How VR & AR Revolutionize Consumer Experience

The ball goes streaking past you as Serena Williams unleashes a mighty serve. You shake your head, admonishing yourself for the misplay. You know you’ll get her next time—you’ve been preparing for this for at least five minutes. You ready your racket for the next serve. As you reach the apex of your backswing, the ball hits you square in the chest—point Williams. You pull off your Virtual Reality (VR) headset, reluctantly grumbling “Damn, she really is the GOAT.”

This is just one example of the immersive possibilities VR holds. At its most basic, virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that users can interact with using special electronic equipment. Closely related, augmented reality (AR) is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world.

These terms might conjure scenes from Back to the Future 2—and the 1980s hit film did manage to get a few things right. VR and AR have become prolific in our world within the last decade—and their impact is expanding to the consumer experience, from trade shows and shopping to travel and much more.

The Rise & Usage of AR/VR

Augmented reality is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we may not even recognize it. The first live NFL game to feature the yellow yard marker on TV was in 1998, an early example of AR technology. However, it was the release of Pokémon Go in 2016 that led to AR’s meteoric rise. According to a New York Times article published shortly after its release, “Pokémon Go represents one of those moments when a new technology — in this case, augmented reality or A.R., which fuses digital technology with the physical world — breaks through from a niche toy for early adopters to something much bigger.”

IKEA was an early adopter of AR in the retail space, launching the IKEA Place App in 2017. The app allows customers to place furniture virtually in their home, testing different products, styles and design elements, all from their phones. Bobbi Brown, a cosmetic company, includes AR features on its website that enable potential customers to try on lipstick shades without going to a physical store.

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the adoption and usage of AR by both brands and consumers. While brick-and-mortar stores were closed, companies had to adapt to the virtual environment and meet the needs of their customers.

The pandemic also spurred the use of virtual reality. While travel was suspended, hotels and resorts adopted VR technologies as a replacement for in-person visitation with familiarization (FAM) trips. Designed for travel advisors to learn about a destination, hotel or travel experience, FAM trips give travel agents the ability to tour a resort or destination without leaving their homes.

What Does the Future Hold?

Last year, Snap Inc. partnered with Deloitte to survey 15,000 consumers worldwide to better understand AR’s impact on brands and its evolution. According to the study, “By 2025 nearly 75% of the global population and almost all people who use social/communication apps will be frequent AR users.” Among people who use AR, 94% reported that they will use AR to make purchase decisions within the next year.

In addition to being fun technologies, AR and VR increase consumer confidence. The ability to interact with a product in a pseudo-trial decreases the likelihood of a return, especially in e-commerce. Interacting with a brand in a highly engaging experience also generates higher conversion rates—and thus sales. According to the same study, “Interacting with products that have AR experiences leads to a 94% higher conversion rate, as individuals can better assess them and feel connected with brands.”

AR and VR have revolutionized the consumer experience by changing how customers interact with products and brands. Gen Z and Generation Alpha, individuals born between 1995-2009 and 2010-2024 respectively, will have grown up with this technology and will come to expect this across verticals.

How Can I Use VR/AR for My Brand?

The opportunities to think outside the box are endless. VR is an excellent channel for brand activations, product demonstrations and training. At events, conferences or trade shows, VR can transport attendees into an immersive experience. The ability for consumers to interact with a product and understand how it works before using it in a real environment is invaluable.

First, consider incorporating AR into your website and app to help users learn more information about your products and how they can best serve their needs. This is a beneficial first step in aligning your brand with AR capabilities. Next, consider AR opportunities through social channels by creating a custom filter on Snapchat and Instagram. Users will be more likely to share fun and relevant content, driving greater awareness.

The opportunity to use AR/VR isn’t applicable only to customers and external stakeholders. You can use VR for internal business purposes such as recruiting and onboarding remote employees. Take a VR tour of the office and get a hands-on understanding of company operations, for example.

AR/VR will continue to grow, changing the user experience, and we’re eager to continue helping our clients adapt to this technology.

At GS&F, we’ve worked with LP Building Solutions to incorporate VR into a key trade show environment. Check out how we expanded our thinking beyond the booth.

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