Stellar at SXSW: Virtual Reality (VR) is Set to Explode

At SXSW we quickly learned that VR is coming, and it’ll be a part of everyday life sooner than we think. Early articles about VR talk about how it can be used in entertainment (gaming and cinema), but there are a lot of applications for brands to connect with their customers.

To keep us at the cutting-edge of customer experience world best practice, some of the Stellar team went to SXSW in Austin, Texas. In this series of blogs I’ll be exploring what we learnt at SXSW, and what it means for our clients.

Dive in to the rest of the series here:

Virtual Reality has been a staple of sci-fi movies for years, wowing audiences with groovy worlds limited by nothing but imagination.

The cost of hardware is becoming more and more affordable, and brands are starting to explore in this space. Some huge household-name companies were keen to discuss their VR development at SXSW, and I was there to absorb as much as possible.

How do you make travel exciting again?

One really great example was Lufthansa. If people are now so used to flying, it’s not special anymore – in the modern world of low cost airlines, online self-service and comparison sites, travel is defined by price and time, not about brand. So their problem was how do you inspire flying? How do you make it feel exciting again?

Their plan was to use VR to create immersive experiences that can be used for sales and marketing. One way of doing this was to set up interactive experiences in travel shows where visitors became guests on virtual journeys. Customers can see and use virtual objects on planes, be served dinner and interact with the environment around them. Once the journey is done they can have experiences relaxing on beaches on virtual holidays.

While this is a feel good way of building brand awareness they are also using the technology to help drive sales results in more direct ways.

Another initiative is starting to pilot Virtual Reality headsets at airport check ins to try and upgrade customers. Customers can view Premium Economy, Business and First Class seats and experience the service and decide whether to upgrade in the queue. This then provides a real ROI for Lufthansa and brings back the excitement around the flying experience.

Go cliff-jumping on your lunch break

Another brand experimenting with VR and talking at SXSW was NorthFace. They have been developing and creating VR outdoor experiences to sell their products and experiences. They have started capturing outdoor adventures like cliff jumping, so customers can experience using the products in their natural environment whilst indoors and in store. At the moment they see their VR strategy as conversation mode. They can’t sell products on VR yet, it’s more of a branding exercise, and another form of content marketing.

However, they will eventually pilot full VR stores which customers can walk around, interact with products, test them and purchase them from within a VR environment.

Cool, I want in… what’s the catch?

The only barrier at the moment seems to be widespread hardware adoption. However, most estimates predict that smartphone-powered VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR and standalone devices such as the Oculus Rift (though to a lesser degree) will gain significant traction for the first time in 2016, encouraging developers and brands to begin experimenting more with this new platform.

So what does this mean for the future? With many predicting the next wave of social media networks being based around VR technology, this platform could be become a far bigger part of all our lives. Being able to shop, browse, try and buy products in a VR environment will change the retail landscape as well as have huge implications for our future social lives.

With these new platforms and shopping experiences, the need for customer service is still required and how brands offer a fully immersive VR environment with support when required will be critical to success. At the moment VR is firmly in the realm of marketing and branding. However, as more customers flock to this channel, brands will also need to start supporting them there. The obvious strengths of this channel include self-service shop fronts, trouble shooting, product testing and chatting face to face with a representative of the brand in a virtual environment. This could see VR become part of the contact centre environment with companies offering live or automated support in this engaging platform.

Imagine putting on a headset at home and walking around a virtual store, getting to test new products and features. Right when you need help a live sales assistant appears and answers all of your questions – before helping you buy a new phone that is customised to suit your needs.

Fundamentally, VR can bring back the excitement for all brands but it still needs to lead to revenue or a sound ROI. This will be the next challenge for all companies starting to play with this technology.

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