October was such an important month for the virtual reality and augmented reality industry. It was announcements and product launches galore with news coming from key players like Oculus, Sony, Microsoft and Google dominating the headlines almost every week. So what’s next?
Well, it’s time to start talking about VR and Holidays. November has just started and with it come the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations and displays across retail stores in the U.S. and many places worldwide. So what does this have to do with VR? Well, everything.
I’m starting to see plastic, low-cost VR headsets pop up in mainstream chains like TJ Maxx and Walgreens. Target has started carrying the Merge VR headset, and T-Mobile stores are stocking up on Samsung Gear 360 and Gear VR. Best Buy and GameStop have VR demos in some 300 stores across the U.S. and Canada. While VR hasn’t gone mainstream yet, we are nearing a tipping point and retail experts agree.
“Currently, the use of the virtual reality in retail environment is focused around PR opportunities, which help gain exposure for companies who invest in VR as way to be on the leading edge,” said Portland-based consumer trend forecaster, Jena Nesbitt. “In the future, we can see the usefulness of VR as a way to create better targeted marketing through data gathering.”
I started noticing this trend about a few months ago. As a mom of 3, living in Gainesville, Florida (population 127,000+) there are not many options when it comes to retail stores. So a big box store like TJ Maxx or Home Goods are my go-to’s for shopping in our small city.
Back in September, I stopped by a TJ Maxx to buy some things for my daughter when I spotted it. It was a whole shelf stocked with plastic VR headsets ranging in prices from roughly $30 to $15. It was a marvelous site! (almost heard a choir of angels) and I even documented in on Facebook. I immediately took 5 headsets and then proceeded to the checkout lane. What follows next blew my mind.
Once an attendant told me to come over, I unloaded my shopping cart. I couldn’t hide how excited I was about seeing VR in mainstream retail. I was overjoyed and shared this with the cashier. She was a woman probably in her 50s and I assumed she had never heard the term virtual reality. I was wrong. I told her how excited I was and asked if she thought they’d restock the VR headsets or if this was a one-time thing. She then replied, “No dear, we’ll definitely have more. We were told that VR is going to be huge this Christmas.”
These plastic headsets are an entry point into VR and the more people get their hands on them, the more exposure VR will get with the masses. Most of the population now has a smartphone and many of those phones can be used with these universal headsets. While the experience pales to that of an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, it still will expose more consumers to the possibilities.
Fast forward to November. We are all getting ready for Thanksgiving and many kids (just like mine) are starting to sort out what they want Santa to bring them. VR will definitely be at the top of those lists for this year and for years to come.
“Virtual reality is a promising platform for brand storytelling, giving retailers opportunities to create memorable in-store experiences for their customers,” concluded Nesbitt.