AT&T brings virtual reality to stores

Discussion
Feb 22, 2016

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Fierce Retail, an e-newsletter and website covering the latest retail technology news and analysis.

Retailers are testing the virtual reality waters, and AT&T is among the first to give the technology a try, rolling out VR in partnership with Samsung Electronics to give shoppers a more immersive experience.

As of last Friday, 133 AT&T stores in 37 states will have a Samsung Gear VR by Oculus that lets users virtually experience a Carnival Cruise. Promising users donning headsets will be “surrounded by the sights and sounds of a warm and sunny cruise vacation,” the content highlights decks, staterooms and entertainment venues. The presentation showcases ships from the company’s Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line brands on excursions to Barcelona, Mexico and other popular destinations.

While basically an advertisement for the cruise line, the demo is among the first modern VR experiences that the public can try out.

“Our customers know they can come to an AT&T store to experience the future of a connected life,” said Brian Shay, president, retail sales and distribution for AT&T. “We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show it off.”

The Samsung Gear VR is designed to work with Samsung’s Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ and Note5, all sold at AT&T stores. Mobile devices deliver the content, and the headset plunges users into the immersive experience.

Shoppers will be able to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a seven-day cruise. While select stores will offer the full VR experience, another 1,100 stores will have the content, which was developed by Carnival, available for customers to demo on the Gear VR headset.

Retailers are experimenting with VR in a variety of ways. SapientNitro showed off a virtual store at NRF’s annual conference and expo in January, complete with shoppable content. Users simply focused on an item through a VR headset, then pricing and product information appeared in the view.

Lowe’s showed off a Holoroom at the International CES in January, where VR was among the most buzzed-about technologies. The home improvement retailer is using a virtual product platform by Marxent called VisualCommerce to help shoppers connect smart home devices.

Holoroom is an in-store and at-home virtual reality design tool meant to help shoppers design kitchens and bathrooms with 3D representations of Lowe’s products. The system uses an Oculus Rift in stores and Google Cardboard at home.

Image: AT&T, Samsung, Carnival Corporation

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What categories beyond travel do you see as obvious opportunities for advertising supported by virtual reality? Do you see physical stores being a prime vehicle to bring virtual-reality driven messages to the public?

Braintrust
"It’s a stretch to believe shoppers will use this technology to replicate the analog shopping the aisles experience. This would be a transitional novelty experience."
"Typically, new technologies like VR are taken up by tech-savvy early adopters before average consumers really grab hold of them. This experiment is sort of bucking that pattern and time will tell if it works."
"Experiencing VR for the first time is literally an eye-opening experience. However, creating real consumer interest and adoption will require more than an "infomercial" for a cruise."

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13 Comments on "AT&T brings virtual reality to stores"

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Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Architectural, home builders, remodeling, landscaping and interior design all come to mind as natural opportunities for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. Most people cannot mentally visualize how something will look using their brain. VR and AR technologies provide a window into this future allowing shoppers a vehicle to foresee the results of a purchase decision.

It’s a stretch to believe shoppers will use this technology to replicate the analog shopping the aisles experience. This would be a transitional novelty experience. Perhaps if the experience matured to a full HD experience it may have a place for the grocery shopping trip. Picking up a product and reading the nutritional label may be a valuable experience to a conscientious shopper.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

VR is not limited by potential categories, it’s limited by potential adoption.

The AT&T experiment is a good test of how valuable VR may ultimately be to retailers. Between the contest and the chance to try out the much hyped VR technology, there’s a good chance that foot traffic will increase in the stores. Whether that traffic translates into substantial sales for cruises, mobile or HMDs remains to be seen.

Once the novelty factor is overcome, the proof will be in sales figures from general retail customers that had a VR experience. Typically, new technologies like VR are taken up by tech-savvy early adopters before average consumers really grab hold of them. This experiment is sort of bucking that pattern and time will tell if it works. Pushing demand for technology where it doesn’t organically exist usually backfires. Just look at the last CES darling, 3-D TV.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

The opportunities for VR are tremendous, crossing category lines and offering consumers a new way to experience products and services. With VR headsets being in their infancy and without much market penetration, physical stores are the logical place for consumers to experience them. It’s important that participating retailers keep the headsets clean and in working order and staff the experience with knowledgeable store personnel.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

First, kudos to AT&T for being a retail leader in consumer experience.

AT&T stores might not even sell a single piece of VR gear. It doesn’t matter at this point. Bringing VR to stores is yet another example of how AT&T is positioning its brand as the leader in bringing experiences and excitement to their consumers. This is a classic case of differentiating the value of stores by providing an experience you can’t get online. Consumers are increasingly choosing where to shop based upon the quality of the experience.

Experiencing VR for the first time is literally an eye-opening experience. However, creating real consumer interest and adoption will require more than an “infomercial” for a cruise. While Lowe’s “Holoroom” might not quite be there yet, there is real consumer value in being able to experience a design of your new kitchen by “walking into” a VR rendering.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Anyone who has tried VR knows its potential. It’s only a matter of time before it’s rolled out in a variety of retail settings. Imagine experiencing a runway show from the front row, at a luxury retailer. The possibilities are really exciting.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I have had some fairly extensive experience in VR, AR (augmented reality) and ER (enhanced reality), and — for what it’s worth — it isn’t as much the technology as much as it is the content that will determine what role VR will, or won’t, play in retailing.

Not to say the headsets aren’t important, but badly “stitched” content will make the user fairly sick, fairly quickly — an almost sure inhibitor to sales.

I also don’t believe that VR alone is the answer. Some combination of VR and AR can clearly be a potentially effective retail tool, far more effective than straight VR.

But, again, the caveat here is — don’t fall in love with a platform. The change too fast and with good reason.

So, assuming the right set of hypotheticals, any category could be enhanced by some version of VR, AR or ER.

As to the second question … think for a minute. If I can so perfect replicate an experience, why would I need to go to a store in the first place? Why not just sit at home? This content will be downloaded and streamed, so why should I travel to experience it?

If “VR” gets traction this time, it won’t necessarily help stores.

Tom Redd
Guest

Let me be honest … this VR binge is another attempt to apply “neato” kiddie technology to retail in desperate hopes that it will increase sales. I have done the VR thing and it is about 1-3 minutes of your brain saying “NEAT” and your logic saying saying this is just stupid marketing.

Like 3D TVs — another attempt to differentiate that is not gonna fly far. Great! Promote a cruise — in 3D! Come on. Show items in stores? Do you see the future of retail packed with people wearing google glasses or 3D goggles?

What categories for VR? Vacuum salesman (door to door)? DIY stores with space to waste? Bars for a new buzz drink … drink and watch VR — a new buzz?

Check back in a year or so … VR will be an old PR/Promo trend….

Have a nice, real Monday!

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Cars, clothing, vacations, flights, travel, shopping, sports, etc. All of these are immediate winners when VR truly matures and becomes a way to “experience” life in a different world without leaving your current location. Physical stores will not be required to bring this message to the public once VR is mature. As with the Internet, who will need to go to a physical store if you have your own VR gear and want to experience any of these things?

Vahe Katros
BrainTrust
I heard about these guys last week – VRstudios. With their wireless VR technology (which means that all the supercomputer rendering is not done in the headset) and computer architecture which includes a room with 16 position sensors, you and others can walk through virtual reality…think multiplayer games, think virtual social shopping, think shopping in categories that involve interior designers, think retailers selling branded virtual clothing. Check out the video where architects discuss their experience walking through a building they designed. It’s easy to blow this off as fantasy, but this is a futures question and imagine that in less than a decade we’ve seen the web move from a document management system to a programmable system with published APIs and code hubs that have fueled smart phones and apps, iPads, social applications, cloud computing, wearable computers, blockchain, synthetic biology, 3D printing, collaborative consumption (Uber/Airbnb,) open API machine learning, electric cars, Internet of Things/connected products, WiFi everywhere … that’s all that I can think of, but wow, where was I? Oh, this is a futures driven question and the question is should retailers pay attention to this or blow it off? I mean, does retail really have any connection to… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

This would be a boon for sporting goods stores. How great would it be to put on a headset and experience downhill skiing? Or a 95 mph fast ball? Or a fast set of rapids? The possibilities are endless.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Entertainment (and gaming, in particular) is a hot category for advertising supported by VR. Automotive, retail and food & beverage are all prime categories to dive into VR.

VR enables brands and advertisers to connect with consumers in an immersive and experiential environment, and, to create deeper levels of engagement with products. Storytelling is a key part of VR and offers great opportunity for targeted product placement.

I’ve tried Samsung Gear and liked the user experience. I really like Google Cardboard and am very impressed with where it is going in the education sector. The VR I’ve demoed and least liked, to date, is Oculus Rift. But, I tried out a development kit and bet the consumer version will be better.

For a unique in-store experience, VR will work well. However, I believe AR works best as the technology to engage the majority of shoppers in-store.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe VR just adds to the theater of the bricks and mortar experience. The best retailers understand the value technology can bring and will begin to use it for experiential retail categories like sporting goods and it has even found its way to the runway experiences at Tommy Hilfiger.

Virtual reality has the potential to elevate the customer experience in just about any retail category. Consumers’ enjoyment of the theatre of shopping is a key reason why physical stores are here to stay. The in-store experience enables the brand to tap into consumers’ five senses and offer an immersive experience. While VR may not lead directly to increased sales, it is another way for customers to engage with the brand in a fun and memorable way.

William Hogben
BrainTrust

After the initial excitement of everyone’s first VR experience people will prefer to do it at home, out of sight of others. Putting on the goggles is akin to putting on a blindfold — something that feels fine in your living room, but leaves lots of room for anxiety in a busy store filled with strangers. Go on YouTube to see some of the tricks people play on folks while they’re in the goggles and you’ll understand why many people will be cautious to do it in public.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It’s a stretch to believe shoppers will use this technology to replicate the analog shopping the aisles experience. This would be a transitional novelty experience."
"Typically, new technologies like VR are taken up by tech-savvy early adopters before average consumers really grab hold of them. This experiment is sort of bucking that pattern and time will tell if it works."
"Experiencing VR for the first time is literally an eye-opening experience. However, creating real consumer interest and adoption will require more than an "infomercial" for a cruise."

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