Synthetic Realities, commonly known as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality, are now part of our everyday life. From the gaming industry to lifestyle apps, this new way to experience reality is all around us. How are businesses taking advantage of this digital virtual era?
Virtual Reality is a concept as old as 1935, when the scientific fictional book “Pygmalion’s Spectacles”, written by Stanley Weinbaum, was released, telling a story about how the main character uses protection goggles that transport him to a fictional world, involving all its senses in a holographic experience. Yet, the first development in the VR technology is registered in the 50s, with the invention on Sensorama by Morton Heilig, a small cabin that combined 3D videos, sound, smell, vibration and atmospheric effects, such as wind.
Since then, Virtual and Augmented Reality have been evolving and also democratized, being available to everyone by the use of devices like smartphones and wearables like Head-Mounted Displays (HMD), such as Microsoft Hololens, Google Glasses and Oculus.
Simply put, Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computational stimulation and modeling, resulting in a tridimensional environment where the user is immersed and can interact with different objects or do several tasks. Augmented Reality (AR) is based on the ability of inserting digital interactive elements in the physical world, enhancing the reality by amplifying computational based images that overlap what the user is actually seeing in real time.
Later, the concept of Mixed Reality (MR) has emerged, connecting the real and digital world as one, being the “virtual continuum” between AR and VR. It is characterized by combining three different variables: computational processing, human and environmental intervention. This is mainly used for the creation on avatars in the virtual world and projection of holograms in the real physical world.
These tree concepts have been a part of everyday life in different applications, from Pokémon Go, Animoji and Snapchat / Instagram Filters as a common application of AR, to VR Games that you can play in Playstation VR or even in your smartphone.
But it was soon clear enough that Synthetic Realities can be used for much more than entertainment. Businesses are now using these new technologies to create a much deeper and interesting relationship with their costumers, allowing them to use AR, MR or even VR to experience the products or serviced before buying. This brings the possibility of visualizing the end result of the purchase and diminishes the chance for devolution of products or posterior complaining.
There are a few good examples of companies already putting these technologies in their online businesses:
– The app Swivel Virtual Dressing Room, developed by FaceCake Marketing Technologies and showcased for the first time in Microsoft’s booth at COMPUTEX 2012, is a 3D virtual dressing room that enables buyers to try items and create full looks using the brand’s patented Mirror Image Marketing System and real-time image processing technology.
– The app IKEA Place, by the world renown Swedish furniture brand IKEA, allows the customer to try some of their products in their own house, by measuring the space meant for the product and creating an Augmented Reality experience with the chosen product in real scale, texture and 3D design.
– In Portugal, the Real Estate company Remax has developed a 360º virtual to allow customers to see housing and offices for sale or rental in a virtual experience, with the possibility of walking through the site and seeing all around in the app Remax Virtual Tour.
This is a new perspective of businesses in which the customer is in the center of the experience, known in Marketing as a Customer Centric approach. The customer has more options and more tools to choose accordingly to their expectations, allowing a more overall positive purchase experience. Besides, since the technology behind it is new and still in development, the customer can perceive the brand as innovative and not afraid to take risks, increasing its emotional connection to the company while being a proud part of its process.
Even though this is a huge advancement in the customer perception, which will increase its love for the brand, it is not the only reason companies are investing more and more in these new technologies, in what is estimated to reach over 162 billion dollars in 2020, according to a study by the international consulting company Deloitte.
While using these technologies, customers leave behind a “digital footprint” of their tastes, preferences and predispositions, even if they don’t actually buy a product. With an increasingly global market, competition between brands is also exponentially growing, and whichever has the most data can see ahead and predict the customers wants and needs.
This also allows for a more personalized experience for each customer, since previous data and information of each user / visitor can tell the brand which products and offers can create more chances of conversion and satisfaction, something that is very hard to do in an only physical shopping experience.
In addition, brands can easily use these new channels to try out new products and its acceptance in order to rely on actual data and customer market research to see if a new product is worth launching, if it needs to be modified to better suit the costumer’s expectations or when is most appropriate to reach the market, saving several financial and time-costs of market research and mass production.
All this combined, it’s a win-win situation for both brands and customers. It is an inevitable trend that may very well reach every business area, since is already applied in different sectors such as military and firefighting training, neurological and physical health recovery and also industrial maintenance.
We can expect a massive growth and wide spread of these technologies in the next few years, with the line that divides the real and the virtual world being ever more faded.