Virtual and augmented reality really work: customers do buy more

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Virtual and augmented reality make shoppers more inclined to buy things, a new Belgian PhD study shows. “VR and AR fill in the gaps of traditional marketing”, the University of Brussels study finds.


More realistic and better than photos or videos

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) deliver “huge potential for conventional retail as well as e-commerce”, Helena Van Kerrebroeck concludes in her PhD study conducted at the VUB, a Dutch-language university set in Brussels. Consumers perceive products they are shown using VR or AR technology as closer by and ‘more realistic’, which enhances the customer experience.


Van Kerrebroeck tested how people respond to brands and products when these are presented using VR or AR. In the case of VR, consumers were considerably more positive about the brand or product than subjects who were shown regular two-dimensional videos and pictures. Moreover, these customers were also more inclined to actually buy the products.


“The major advantage VR has over 2D or 3D material, is that it delivers an experience and brings the product to life. A very apt example is the promotion of a particular travel destination: in one of our experiments, we introduced subjects to an exotic destination through VR, a 360° video and pictures. Again, the VR group turned out to be the most positive and inclined to book the holiday”, the researcher explains.


With AR, it is as though products are already yours

Augmented reality also works well to test products in an online environment, the study found. People who shop online with AR are quicker to consider a product as their own, and they also confirm they had a more positive shopping experience. This was demonstrated in a test that enabled subjects to shop using a PC, a smartphone with touchscreen (already introducing the element of touch) and a tablet with an AR application to virtually place products in their own environment.


“This is another interesting finding, especially for e-commerce. One of the obstacles that stops people from making a purchase decision whilst shopping online is that they find it difficult to see how a particular product will fit in in their own environment - think of a piece of furniture or a clothing item. AR enables consumers to try on that dress or put that piece of furniture in their own home interior, without actually touching it or seeing it”, says VUB professor Kim Willems, who helped oversee the study.


Marketing set for radical change

An experiment in a busy shopping centre, which saw a number of shoppers put on VR goggles, showed that consumers find the whole situation less busy courtesy of virtual reality and are generally speaking more pleased with the shopping centre. Moreover, they confirmed they were more inclined to return. Which means VR is also capable of enhancing the shopping environment, according to the study.


“VR and AR will radically change consumer behaviour and the way in which companies sell their products over the years ahead”, Willems concludes.