When Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014, the acquisition wasn’t exactly regarded as a stroke of business genius.
They then noted what was the popular “uncharitable view” of the time: “Oculus VR is a boy’s toy for Facebook’s still-youthful CEO: He tried the Rift and loved it so much he bought the company.”
That was 2014.
Whether the Oculus Rift was not the right platform remains a jump ball — as does most of the hardware side of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technology. However, given the interests and investment in VR (and AR) tech from likes Alphabet/Google, Samsung, Apple, Intel and HTC, among others, buying in on VR seems a lot less like a quirky investment in a boy’s toy from the point of view of 2017 than it did in 2014.
What looked like a technological innovation for a very narrow group of users in 2014 — tech-enthused young men with a passion for hyper-realistic gaming — has, as of 2017, turned out to be an experience that is relevant to a much larger and more general group: consumers.
“At Mastercard, we are seeing radical shifts in the world of commerce,” Mastercard’s SVP, Commerce for Every Device, Kiki Del Valle, told PYMNTS in an interview. “Consumers are leading an increasingly connected, digital lifestyle. VR opens up a new way of shopping — one that is immersive, contextually relevant and which allows them to get the story behind each product and their creators.”
Moreover, Del Valle noted, virtual reality offers merchants an opportunity to do something new when something new is desperately in need. In the era of falling foot traffic and changing consumer trends (in light of that more connected digital lifestyle), retail needs reinvention and better ways to expand its customer offerings.
“For retailers, virtual reality allows them to showcase more products in their physical locations without actually carrying inventory and also places consumers in a contextually appropriate location for viewing the objects which they are going to buy.”
Which is why consumers are increasingly presented opportunities to interact with virtual showrooms in the U.S. and all over the world. Those experiences are brought to them by some of the more recognizable brands in retail: Alibaba, Ikea, Lowes, North Face and Disney being some of the headline-grabbers of the year.
This week that list got an new addition, with an assist from Mastercard: Atelier Swarovski.
Unlocking Crystal’s Unique Potential (and Solving Its Unique Set of Problems)
Swarovski approached Mastercard, Del Valle said, because the company had a vision of what they wanted to use VR for — namely being able to showcase their complete line of products, while also efficiently using shelf space. And, they wanted to help the planet while they did it.
“Swarovski wanted to limit its carbon footprint (from shipping, packaging and excess production), as they have a strong corporate focus on environmentally sustainable practices,” Del Valle stated.
Being in the business of making large, heavy, delicate, priceless crystals makes that a tricky needle to thread. Properly displaying their inventory takes up a lot of physical space, and shipping items requires a lot of packaging materials. But moving customers online and thus relying on two-dimensional photographs isn’t really the ideal solution for a company that sells works of art.
“In Swarovski’s case, the stores which carried their Atelier line had limited shelf space, and the delicate nature of the pieces made VR the most appropriate tech vehicle for showcasing the line. Also, with VR, the hope is that consumers can more deeply engage with the products before making a purchase — limiting expensive logistics.”
The shop, as designed, takes users on a tour of five areas in a home with different crystal pieces from the Atelier Swarovski collection. Users can read descriptions, see pricing and, in some cases, even watch videos about their creation. Currently only operational on the Google Cardboard platform, Del Valle noted that the plan is for the VR tech to migrate to other virtual reality platforms in the future.
“This collaboration offers people a truly experiential way to shop, allowing customers the unique opportunity to explore every detail of each object. It also adds value to the retail experience, allowing consumers to learn the story behind each piece — the design inspiration and process — as well as make a seamless purchase.”
The Power of the Payment
The seamless purchase is particularly key. Del Valle explained that by using the Masterpass “Express Checkout” solution, consumers can open a secure, authenticated session before entering the experience (by signing into Masterpass within the Swarovski mobile app or by quickly creating a Masterpass account and then logging in).
“With the session open, consumers can purchase items in VR without leaving the experience to add payment credentials,” she said, noting that there is no need for a customer to log out or redirect to another site.
Instead, she explained, consumers can add a Swarovski item to their cart and use Express Checkout by clicking the Masterpass button that appears at the bottom of the product description. Since the customer has already been authenticated, all they need to do to complete a purchase is move their head a little and focus their eye on the buy button.
When they’re done, they just leave by taking off the headset.
“When the consumer exits the application or the session detects that the headset has been removed, the consumer will be automatically logged out of their Masterpass account to mitigate against unintended purchases,” Del Valle said.
No fuss, no cumbersome extra processes. Much like leaving a store — and taking your credentials with you.
Customers like to shop digitally. The magic of virtual reality, Del Valle said, is that it really opens up, for the first time, the ability to purchase items that weren’t practical to shop for online — the “you have to be there” stuff. VR creates an avenue for customers to experience products without actually having to see them physically.
“Take cars, for example. People research cars online before a purchase. How much would that experience be improved for consumers if, instead of seeing the car interior and exterior views, they could experience the sensation of driving down Main Street or hear the design story from the car designer and its performance details from the engineer?”
For Mastercard with VR, Del Valle said, it is all about the better experience; because consumers who don’t have good experiences are also consumers who don’t buy. No one would shop at a store in the real world if, at the end of picking out all their goods, they had to stop, leave the building and go to the one next door to pay. That’s a cumbersome process — one consumers would eschew. Virtual stores are no different, which means the checkout experience needs to be as “realistic” as the renderings of the objects for sale — or customers will move on.