Virtual reality (VR) is quickly becoming mainstream: patients are using it to consult with doctors; designers are creating virtual runways that are accessible to shoppers around the globe. As retailers continue to look for innovative ways to provide consumers with customized shopping experiences, VR is leading the way. In fact, according to an Oracle report, Can Virtual Experiences Replace Reality?, 74 percent of retailers already have or are planning to deploy VR to improve the customer experience in the coming years.
The promise of VR answers the need for brands to combine convenience with experience to best meet customer needs. VR can be a phenomenal asset for brands to improve the in-store shopping experience for consumers in a number of ways. One example of this relates to inventory. If a customer wants to try on a particular color, fabric or style, but the item is not currently available in the store, VR offers that buyer a virtual dressing room to allow her to try on the garment. The consumer is able to see if the cut or print is what she wants without being disappointed that the product was not in stock. The customer can then work with the sales associate to purchase the item online for delivery to her home. Another example of how VR can improve the in-store shopping experience is by expediting the overall shopping trip. Sometimes trying on clothes can be a hassle and time consuming. A retailer that leverages VR can offer the consumer the chance to enter the virtual dressing room and try clothes on quickly without having to change in and out of each piece, enabling a speedy but informed purchase.
The personalized and immersive experience VR provides is revolutionary. With the progress of the technology, brands and retailers of all sizes will likely look to implement it to stay competitive while also meeting customer demands. However, before this technology is adopted, it’s critical that retailers and brands prepare their IT infrastructure and resources.
Reality of VR
Most retailers are prepared to handle their day-to-day store operations, but setting up and running a VR system may feel out of their league. Concerns may include the bandwidth and quality of running a system that requires high-end computing resources locally and there can be too much data to stream a high-quality experience. The many other challenges are similar to those facing other early adopters – the processing power required for virtual reality is significant and generally not enterprise ready, and support and development of virtual reality platforms are still in their infancy. For retailers, in particular, there is an added challenged as most systems require high-end video cards that are designed for gaming and not equipped to run in a retail location for 12 hours per day. So, how can retailers address these concerns and make VR a reality?
To adopt VR, brands need to take the right steps to prepare for the bandwidth and scalability needed to support it. For the 360-degree immersive experience of VR to look amazing and seamless, there is work to be done behind the scenes. Because of the sheer amount of data that needs to be transmitted across networks, the most critical components of the VR experience are network performance and reliability. If a network goes down due to its inability to process the data needed for a VR deployment, the customer will lose immersion. This hinders the shopper’s perception of the brand.
To set the foundation, brands and retailers can take several steps to prepare their IT infrastructure and staff, including migrating data to the cloud or purchasing more data storage and high-performance computing environments. But for those that are entering new territory, one of the most critical steps may be partnering with a managed service provider (MSP) that has experience with high-performance technology and offers round-the-clock support to manage the overall IT infrastructure.
Most retailers will likely not have the tools or skills needed to support VR, because the required technology and resources go beyond their usual needs. This includes the ability to manage fast processors and high bandwidth networks, being able to transmit the data and deploying high-end graphics cards. By partnering with an MSP, the retailer lets the experts handle the technical challenges of VR.
Before any business implements new technology, an essential step is to evaluate the health of the company’s IT infrastructure to ensure it is well maintained. As brands look to keep pace with technology advancements such as VR, having extra hands that manage the day-to-day tasks provides them with time and resources to focus on innovation. MSPs enable retailers to do just this by bolstering their IT team with an extended bench of qualified staff.
MSPs can also help retailers secure additional storage. As mentioned previously, VR requires an unprecedented amount of computing power. To address this issue, retailers may establish new platforms whether on premise or in the cloud to support the high levels of performance required. Retailers have the option of managing this process themselves, or partnering with a MSP to assist them.
VR enables brands to enhance the customer experience and stay ahead of their competitors. By partnering with an MSP, retailers and brands can harness the true power of VR. This technology offers them an opportunity to grow their customer base by providing consumers with a unique, customized shopping experience. But in order for this technology to be implemented successfully, retailers need to prepare their IT infrastructure and resources. And MSPs offer the behind-the-scenes support needed to make sure VR can truly become a reality.
Michael Brandi is vice president of technology solutions at CGS.