Virtual Reality Gains Traction In Retail

virtual reality

Virtual reality could have more retailers reach more consumers in the coming few years — in large part by upping the consumer experience. Already, trends are emerging that promise to play out with greater steam in the 2020s.

Location-based virtual reality (VR) startup The Void is partnering with mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) to open 25 new entertainment outposts in the U.S. and Europe by 2022. Four temporary pop-ups have opened and are opening in New York, San Diego, San Francisco and in the Las Angeles suburb Santa Anita, CNBC reports. “People hear ‘VR’ and they think it’s a gimmick, it’s a fad, it’s not for me,” The Void Co-Founder and CFO Curtis Hickman said in the report. “But anybody can do this. We make it easy for everybody. This is the future of entertainment.”

Customers will pay $35 to experience a physical sensation that they are in a movie. With the planned “Star Wars” theme, for example, participants can feel like they are in a room with a Darth Vader battle scene, complete with temperature changes and weather effects.

VR is expected to generate $1.8 billion for retail and marketing in the year 2022, with revenues from VR initiatives expected to increase by 3,000 percent over the next four years. The number of VR users more than doubled in 2018, growing from 85 million to 171 million.

5G Role

The rise of new 5G mobile network technology also promise to spark new deployments of virtual reality in the retail space. In South Korea, for instance, the country’s “SK Telecom and the nation’s retail conglomerate Shinsegae Group have joined forces to develop new business models and innovative services in the logistics and distribution sectors powered by 5G networks,” according to a report. The deal calls for the companies to develop what the report called “5G-based business models that can be applied to Shinsegae’s department stores and discount store chain E-Mart as well as various shopping malls.”

That effort will apparently involve VR along with augmented reality (AR). The plan is to use VR technology to enable consumers to shop via digital platforms instead of inside brick-and-mortar locations, though no further details were immediately available.

Many VR retail deployments are likely to be modest, even when backed by new 5G technology, according to analysts. That may or may not be the case with the recently announced South Korean deal, but support for that point comes from PYMNTS research.

It found “some retailers are using VR to entice users to take a second look at their brands, deploying it first as a marketing strategy to better connect specific visuals with their brands in consumers’ minds, with sales as a secondary component. Last year saw a boom in brands using VR in this way, including U.K. clothing retailer Topshop, which used it to take shoppers on a waterslide through central London.”

Amazon VR Push

Amazon is also part of this trend.

The eCommerce operator hopes to increase purchases of furniture online via a recently launched feature dubbed Amazon Showroom that takes advantage of virtual reality tools. According to a report in Chain Store Age, the new feature lets online shoppers place 3D images of furniture into a virtual room to get a sense of how it would really look. The room’s wall colors can be changed, as well as the carpet and flooring.  In addition to seeing how furniture looks in rooms with other colors and flooring, shoppers can add products and entire room designs to the room and then purchase it. The new feature works with both Amazon’s mobile app and online.

It doesn’t take special equipment to see that virtual reality has a future in the retail space.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.