2016 was supposed to be all about Virtual Reality. But in spite of billions of dollars invested by tech giants and some interesting new releases such as the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and Google Daydream, the market demand for VR was rather slow. A survey conducted in 2015 (Touchstone Research and Greenlight VR) indicated that 55 percent of respondents were likely to buy a VR set in 2016. In a similar survey done in 2016 the rate of those who want to invest in a VR device in 2017 was only 24 percent.
On the positive side, 86 percent of those who experienced VR rate it as a positive experience. The price of some basic devices, such as Google Cardboard is very affordable.
So the technology it there, it’s great and easily accessible, so what is missing to get the consumers’ engagement?
VR offers some great opportunities for many sectors, including fashion. But brands have to start using it and get it to the people.
56 percent of the respondents to the above mentioned report say they would use VR to shop. It seems like a perfect match: fashion is based on experiences and emotions. VR can deliver that by putting people in situations and environments where they are not but where they would like to be. For instance Virgin Holidays allows their customers experiencing beautiful destinations in VR. The move has quickly paid off – the experience kept customers in the stores longer and generated a significant rise in sales of holidays.
British retailer John Lewis collaborated with Future Visual to give their customers possibility to use VR when remodelling their homes: they could add furniture and accessories, change colours and see the outcome in different light (daylight, night). In-store trials in the Oxford street store revealed great interest and a fantastic feedback.
VR could help revive the high street that hasn’t really changed in the past 100 years and bring new customers to stores. 80 percent of Gen Z and 73 percent of Millenials say that they would be more likely to shop at physical stores if it included VR and AR technologies (report by the Innovation Group).
The possibilities to create exciting shopping experiences are endless. We could imagine visiting stores all over the world in VR without leaving our homes. But there could be also totally virtual stores, something like e-commerce brought to life, where we could walk around, see the clothes from different angles and check how they fit on virtual models. We could also change different elements of the outfit to see how they match together. This is now possible thanks to advanced modelling and animation techniques.
Another possibility is to enable consumers to virtually try on clothes. We all know this problem; clothes that on a picture fitted a model perfectly do not always look the same on us. Also for e-commerce retailers returns of ill-fitting clothes are a big issue. Some augmented reality and 3D solutions already exist but they don’t seem to be widespread. Few years back H&M introduced their ‘virtual fitting room’ where shoppers could chose from different looking models and dress them up to see how they look like. However this feature was discontinued due to low consumer interest. Last year creative agency Holition developed ‘Magic Mirrors’ for the launch of Charlotte Tilbury flagship store in London’s Westfield. The touchscreen Magic Mirrors allow customers ‘try on’ virtually each one of Charlotte’s 10 iconic Makeup Looks. Although there was a great interest in the feature, all these solutions seem more like promotional efforts than valid sales tools.
Finally, something that the fashion industry has been playing with for some time: using VR and 360 degrees videos to stream fashion shows. Last September, Intel became the official technology partner of the New York Fashion Week. This resulted in streaming a number of shows, including Prabal Gurung, Micha Collection and Band of Outsiders in VR, through an app, a VR headset and a Samsung smartphone.
Intel used the Voke technology (Intel actually acquired the start-up few months later) that is based on a special stereoscopic camera used to record experiences, as well as software to then deliver it to various devices.
Also during the NYFW Rebecca Minkoff’s fans could see her collection using an app called Zeekit. It can practically replace the models by you (when you upload your photo) so you can see directly in augmented reality how the clothes look on you.
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week used YouVisit, a platform creating interactive virtual tours, to show the event in a short film, from preparations to front row and backstage.
This may further disturb the traditional, rather elitist organisation of fashion shows. This already happened with the appearance of bloggers and other influencers who instagramm pictures of outfits seconds after they walked through the runway. But new technologies can help brands connect with their customers and fans and create even stronger link and engagement. The viewers will gain virtual access to shows and will be able to chose and follow the parts that are interesting to them, unlike during a streaming from a traditional camera. Buyers won’t have to attend all the shows, they will be able to see closely the pieces that interest them and order directly.
But can VR replace traditional fashion shows? I don’t think so. Few years back, with the emergence of fashion film, some predicted the end of the costly runway. This did not happen either. What will happen instead is the coexistence of different channels. Everything will be omnichannel, access to content, marketing, shopping… It’s time that brands realize this and start offering attractive content and VR experiences.