In a world recovering from a pandemic, customer engagement is essential for the survival and long-term success of small businesses. As such, the use of interactive technologies to establish meaningful human relationships that were previously limited by the pandemic can give small businesses the foundation they need to succeed. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are two such tools that businesses can use to create unique customer experiences.
- What are AR and VR?
- Examples of AR and VR experiences
- Tools to create AR and VR experiences
- The rise of AR and VR
- AR and VR challenges facing SMBs
- Consider immersive tech for customer engagement
What are AR and VR?
AR and VR are emerging technologies that process real-time data to render immersive digital experiences. However, the difference between the two lies in the level of immersion.
Augmented reality enhances a user’s experience with the real world by adding computer-generated features. However, the scene is only partially immersive since the user is not interacting with a completely alternate reality. A popular example of augmented reality is Pokémon GO, a smartphone-based game in which players explore their real environments to find Pokémon characters that have been embedded through AR.
On the other hand, virtual reality offers complete isolation from the real world as it completely immerses a user in a virtual world. Common AR technologies like smartphones and smart glasses are not enough to fully immerse the user—users can still distinguish between the real and virtual worlds, so they aren’t effective for a true VR experience. Instead, VR relies on fully immersive headsets like those from Oculus, Sony PlayStation, and Samsung.
Read more on TechRepublic: Ericsson explores “internet of senses” using AR, VR, and 5G by 2030
Examples of AR and VR experiences
Depending on the goods and services your business offers, you can use AR and VR to engage your customers in new and innovative ways. Consider the examples below as inspiration for your own AR or VR experience.
Home improvement and furniture
Immersive technologies can help users visualize how furniture, decor, and other remodeling products would look in their homes. The true-to-scale simulation ensures users are satisfied with their potential purchases to avoid returns and mistakes.
Fashion and cosmetics
Similarly, AR and VR influence customer purchase decisions by helping them visualize fashion and cosmetics products. Virtual changing rooms provide prospective customers with an unmatched opportunity to visualize clothing on avatars that reflect their body types.
AR helps users try a variety of make-up products in real-time using their smartphone cameras. Aside from streamlining purchasing decisions, such experiences strengthen customer relationships in an unforgivingly competitive market.
A more popular use case of AR and VR is as a virtual showroom. Car showrooms immerse the user into an environment where they digitally interact with their desired car without feeling like they are at a disadvantage for not being in a physical showroom. Prospective customers enjoy a similar experience with digital real estate tours.
Great marketing is a key contributor to strengthening customer relationships. SMBs can use VR and AR for experiential marketing as these technologies make it easier to appeal to the emotions of a customer. Leveraging immersive technologies provides opportunities to use powerful storytelling to improve customer engagement. A good example of this is the poster campaign by Nike and Footlocker to morph a 2D poster of LeBron James into a 3D experience:
Tourism and hospitality
Considering the catastrophic impact COVID-19 had on the tourism and hospitality sector, VR technology has been offering some much-needed escapism. Businesses are leveraging VR to provide virtual tours of various tourism destinations and promote future physical trips. The technology also provides a way for potential tourists to experience hard-to-access areas in a greener and cost-effective manner.
The rise of AR and VR
The social restrictions born of the pandemic highlighted the importance of human connection. As a result, the demand for virtual human connection increased drastically. However, as virtual experiences struggle to be as effective as physical interaction, technologies such as AR and VR have been evolving to deliver unique opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers.
Businesses’ awareness of how VR and AR can improve operations, reduce operational costs, and improve the level of interaction between consumers and products contributes to the increasing popularity of these technologies. Furthermore, the availability of low-cost hardware like the Oculus Quest 2 is proving to be a catalyst in the adoption of virtual reality.
Price competition between vendors is also making VR more affordable. The improvement of network connectivity and advancement of hardware devices allows devices such as mobile phones have improved the accessibility of AR.
Read more on TechRepublic: 91% of businesses already using or planning to adopt AR or VR technology
Tools to create AR and VR experiences
As the future of AR and VR is full of opportunities, small businesses can leverage these technologies to improve their customer experience. Below are a few tools to leverage your AR and VR experiences.
In the e-commerce space, Shopify is emerging as a leading provider of AR functionality. There are options for product visualization and 3D renderings, and future capabilities for virtual body measurement loom on the horizon.
Because it’s such a new market, many large corporations use their own proprietary technology to create VR experiences. However, there are a few tools in the VR space that are open to anyone. Cardboard and Daydream are VR platforms by Google that can be leveraged for immersive digital experiences. Samsung’s Gear VR and Meta’s Oculus also support a broad range of VR applications.
AR and VR challenges facing SMBs
Despite the growing opportunities for SMBs to leverage immersive tech, there are a few obstacles that may be harder for small businesses to overcome compared to large corporations.
Even though hardware such as VR headsets are becoming cheaper, hardware costs may still prove to be a stumbling block to AR and VR adoption. If the target demographic for a product or service is priced out of such hardware, the digital experiences businesses offer usually miss the mark. Regardless of the emergence of cost-effective tools and techniques to deliver AR and VR, the cost of production is still generally high, as high-quality digital experiences are expensive to create.
Businesses may have unforgettable digital experiences to offer, but the limitations of consumer electronics provide an underwhelming end product. These devices may offer a taste of the desired experience and fall short of expectations. Furthermore, devices with VR/AR features may be wrangled with power consumption and display problems that detract from the overall experience.
Virtual reality is bandwidth-heavy. Your businesses may require lots of bandwidth to support seamless and impactful experiences for your customers. As a result, you may have to consider investing in additional bandwidth infrastructure. This can add to your ongoing operational costs.
Education on the use of VR and AR
If consumers fail to see the applications of VR and AR in their day-to-day lives, they may miss out on its value entirely. Lack of exposure in the consumer market poses a challenge to the effectiveness of the digital experiences a business would offer.
The technology also needs innovative talent to ensure it consistently provides maximum value to consumers. The talent gap undermines the potential of VR and AR.
Consider immersive tech for customer engagement
With enough brainstorming and planning, augmented and virtual technologies can help you engage customers in new and exciting ways. Plus, AR and VR can give you a competitive edge over similar businesses in your industry.
These tools allow your customers to get a sense of your products or services before purchase, but more importantly, they create a deeper sense of connection with your brand. In the long run, immersive tech can create a new dimension of your business that extends past your brick-and-mortar shop or your online store and reaches customers exactly where they are.