As consumers, we live in interesting times. There are a plethora of ways to shop for products and services. Marketers continue to find creative means to connect shoppers with products. There are brick and mortar stores with “door buster” deals, television ads with “call now” urgent pricing, and numerous online purchasing options. Interestingly, though, which of these methods truly encompasses the consumer’s journey? Let’s take a look at them.
Brick and mortar stores offer the best tactile experience to the consumer. They allow the consumer to experience (see, touch, feel) the product. They also allow for discovery of items that the consumer wasn’t even aware of. This can leave the consumer in a delighted state and can enhance the experience. This is true if you are looking to purchase a birthday card or an automobile. They also provide a great social activity, as shopping can be done with one’s friends. However, there are shortcomings to visiting a store that some consumers find challenging to overcome – such as having to get there, crowds, or the unavailability of the desired item.
Television ads often provide information on a product as well as demonstrations of how it can be used. Oftentimes a celebrity chef, car dealer or athlete will demonstrate a revolutionary product and show how the consumer can derive benefit from it. But, this sales approach isn’t always successful, as you must be watching the television to see the ad. Also, you must have time to understand the sometimes complex usages of the product being demonstrated. Finally, you can’t “touch and feel” the product or inspect the details and quality.
Online shopping offers an endless variety of product choices, prices and delivery options. Typically, you will find higher availability and lower prices than a brick and mortar store can provide. You can also find a lot of real-world feedback from other consumers who have purchased the same product that you are interested in. But, there are many shortcomings to this method of shopping as well – the greatest one being security of personal and financial information – and there are others, such as who to buy from, shipping costs, and returning the wrong item.
So what then is the future of shopping for consumer products? There are benefits and shortcomings to all of the methods listed above. You will find consumers who subscribe to one or more of the above methods and dislike another. Is there a way to improve on these methods? To evolve them? What if we take the best of each method and combine it into a new solution? What if the consumer was able to go on a virtual shopping experience without ever leaving his or her home?
A virtual shopping experience would allow the consumer to shop and to interact with a product, find out information about a product, and go shopping with friends without ever leaving the house. The shopper would be able to experience interactions with products such as walking through the aisles of a store, picking up and inspecting a product on a shelf, test-driving an automobile, and doing all of this with friends who are in multiple locations.
This might sound a little like science fiction, but the technology to implement virtual shopping is available today. Have you played the latest video games like “Call of Duty,” which offer a rich immersive experience? They define entire virtual worlds and allow you to define an avatar (virtual analog of yourself) that represents you in the virtual world. Using this approach, a shopping mall could be represented by a virtual world. Your avatar could then walk in and out of shops and interact with products in the virtual mall. You would have the ability to interact and inspect objects by picking them up and manipulating them in some manner like placing it in a shopping cart.
You would also be able interact with other people in the virtual mall. This might represent meeting your friends for a shopping trip. Today’s gaming software allows for real-time communication with team members, but the future would also allow for team members to gather in a group and all inspect the same item.
Imagine if there were virtual reality simulations of all the great shopping centers in the world. Then imagine that the goods and services that they have available are there for you to interact with, to inspect, and, finally, to purchase.
Most consumers already have the necessary technical equipment to have this experience. It might be in the form of a computer, tablet or gaming system. To further enhance the experience, an audio headset might be necessary. As the feedback aspects of gaming systems continue to evolve, 3D virtual reality eyewear and tactile gloves that allow the user to “feel” objects will become available.
What remains is for retailers to make the investment in this virtual experience. The necessary product information is available, but sellers will need to change their mind set in order to provide a truly immersive experience.
Virtual shopping would not be a replacement for the actual shopping experience. Instead it should be considered an enhancement. In reality, consumers only have so much time to spend at the mall. However, one could spend time with their friends at a virtual mall any time they choose. This is already the mindset of gamers. Why not for shoppers? After all, for some, shopping is serious gaming.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
Back to Mobile Commerce Insider Home