Supermarkets: The Earliest Adopters of Mainstream Virtual Reality?

Often when we talk about virtual reality, we talk about gaming or the array of useless apps currently available, which is the issue with VR at present.

It’s a pioneering bit of tech, but one that suffers from a lack of real-world uses. In short, it’s niché, and we, the mainstream, are indifferent to it. Could that all change next year?

In 2018 we will see virtual reality finally break out of obscurity: Mark Zuckerberg will realise his vision to have a billion people using VR, and the Oculus GO headset will sell at a more realistic price – $199.00. Likewise, it will be standalone, meaning it won’t need to be hooked up to a computer or bulky charging pack.

So, where will we see virtual reality take off? Hospitals? Schools? Construction? How about supermarkets? For most, the idea of a virtual supermarket is alien, but one that makes perfect sense. And this is why…

Fusing the offline shopping experience in a virtual world

The advent of online shopping has been a great success. In a world where time is a commodity and convenience essential, it has helped free – most of us – from the time-consuming weekly grocery shop. But not everyone feels that way.

While adoption is high – e-commerce now contributes to 35% of global FMCG growth [Kantar Worldpanel] – many consumers still want bricks and mortar stores. According to a recent BBC report and consumer survey, 85% prefer to visit in-store. What virtual reality can provide is a combination of these worlds – the convenience of online, with the familiarity of a store experience.

We’ve already seen this with several major brands, including Swarovski, who, with the help of Mastercard, have created an app that enables people to browse and pay for products in VR. For a more FMCG example, look to Boursin’s sensorium, or The Singleton, who used VR to produce an immersive tasting experience for its whisky.

As the above examples show, VR does not necessarily have to provide an actual home shopping experience. Diageo, the agency behind the activation, reports that 1 in 5 people bought a bottle of The Singleton whisky after trialling the experience. 

We expect this trend to grow throughout 2018.

Gamifying the shopping experience to engage younger audiences and build advocacy

Last month, Sainsbury’s released a new ad shot entirely on Snapchat Spectacles to appeal to a new “generation of people who are walking through the doors of Sainsbury’s every day”. The ad gained widespread attention and highlighted how supermarkets are taking a social-first approach to engage younger consumers.

With millennials and Gen Z set to be among the highest adopters of virtual reality, it makes sense for both supermarkets and FMCG brands to capitalise on this new technology next year. According to Retail Dive, 44% of Gen Z want virtual and augmented reality to be implemented in stores in 2018.

We see real value in VR as a storytelling platform. Rather than brands exposing their millennial and Gen Z audiences to a constant barrage of online ads, FMCG brands and supermarkets can provide memorable experiences through VR to help build advocacy and improve perception.

2018 onwards – AI, AR, chatbots and voice technology

If a virtual supermarket seems a little way off, a more realistic prediction for 2018 will be the use of augmented reality. With AR, which doesn’t require additional hardware, users are able to scan product labels using their smartphone to reveal recipes, nutritional information and exclusive deals.

Likewise, we expect more supermarkets to follow in Amazon GO’s footsteps with the launch of AI stores and check out free supermarkets. That aside, the biggest trend of 2018 – and worry for many brands – will be the use of voice search through Siri, Alexa and Google Home, which may see users shunning stores altogether.

So, will VR save our supermarkets by offering a unique alternative to voice? It’s a possibility most will want to consider. Some stores have been using virtual stores to analyse consumer behaviour, eye movement and real-time purchase decisions. Why not enable VR for the B2C market, too?

Liked this? Why not read our recent predictions on Instagram’s immersive reality or our latest post on the reasons why everyone will be a social media influencer in 2018 onwards.

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