You may soon be able to step into a department store anywhere in the world, try on as many clothes as you like, and make your purchase without ever pulling out your credit card — or ever leaving your living room.
Such virtual shopping experiences are on the horizon, thanks to ever-increasing investments in virtual reality (VR) platforms. VR delivers immersive experiences through VR headsets, placing consumers in convincing virtual settings where they can redesign kitchens, test drive cars and try out products before making a purchase.
As the prevalence of VR technology grows, retailers have an opportunity to expand their brand and market reach by developing localized virtual shopping experiences for consumers around the world.
The Present and Future of VR
VR technology is still in its early stages, but recent developments hint that a meaningful leap forward for consumer VR is coming soon:
· Amazon’s Echo technology lets consumers make purchases as quick as you can say “Alexa,” but the major online retailer recently promoted its Prime Day event with virtual reality kiosks in shopping malls.
· Alibaba, an e-commerce giant and major Amazon competitor, did something similar in 2016 for Singles Day, the biggest shopping holiday in China. It showcased a VR shopping experience with its Buy+ app.
These are just two examples among a slew of other global companies that have used VR technology to enhance the consumer experience, including Swarovski, IKEA, Lowes, Swarovski and Tommy Hilfiger.
Currently, the retailer most likely to make virtual reality a commercial reality is Walmart. It recently acquired VR startup Spatialand and applied for two U.S. patents for technology that could potentially provide consumers with VR shopping experiences. Starting in October of 2018, Walmart employees will also use VR headsets for training purposes, so it may not be long before VR is incorporated into the consumer experience as well.
As major brands continue to discover practical use cases for VR technology and roll out experiences for domestic consumers, the next logical step would be to localize these experiences for international customers. While no global retailer has yet made a notable attempt, the current state of technological development suggests that it’s simply a matter of time.
Contributing to the slow adoption of VR shopping is the fact that — as with all emerging technologies —developing VR content is challenging and costly.
Awareness of the technology has increased from 28 percent of the U.S. population in 2016 to 51 percent in 2018, according to a Nielson report, and prices for VR/AR devices for home use have gradually gone down in price over the years. But, with high-quality VR headsets costing around $200 on average in the United States, the barrier to entry is still high for many American households, and even higher in emerging markets.
If brands decide to virtually enter new global markets, localization compounds these challenges exponentially for each market and language. Beyond virtual world building (and virtualized, convincing 3D models of products), product descriptions and specifications must be translated, voiceovers must be re-recorded, and all brand messaging needs to be culturally appropriate and authentic. Even animation for gestures and body language may need to be localized for regional norms.
However, the same solutions that global brands use to give customers in-language, localized online experiences may be used in the future to translate and localize VR elements such as product information and voiceovers.
Someday, the same technology that detects, queues and translates content on websites or in industry-standard file formats can do the same for product descriptions and text displayed in virtual worlds.
Translation solutions that can handle media of all kinds, including images, video and web apps, may eventually handle VR media, too. And solutions that leverage existing translations to save costs for omnichannel use could just as easily repurpose translated content for VR channels.
As VR headset ownership increases worldwide and companies such as Walmart, Amazon and other global brands continue to experiment with virtual reality, it’s only a matter of time until VR shopping experiences are commonplace. As development technologies and tools become more affordable, so will the cost to build and populate virtual shops with virtual goods.
Forward-thinking brands should start planning now for the next frontiers of retail experience. This includes finding solutions that meet their multilingual VR business needs today, as well as in the future.
Craig Witt is Executive Vice President: Global Sales, Marketing and Go-To-Market at MotionPoint.