Embracing The Illogical In Shopping

Let’s talk about emotional intelligence. It’s pretty well established that a person’s emotional intelligence is a huge driver for what they achieve in their lives. In the eyes of many psychologists, it tops logical intelligence. But that’s not the emotional intelligence we’re referring to. We’re talking about emotional intelligence when it comes to machines. You’ve heard about artificial intelligence (AI). Now it’s time to explore algorithmic emotional intelligence.

First, why is this important? And second, what has it to do with shopping? Well, just ask yourself – when you’re out shopping, does it matter to you what the shopping environment is like or are you just in a hurry to buy your stuff and get out of the door? Is a luxurious, plush setting with exceptional customer service preferable to a warehouse stacked with bundles of clothes that you’re expected to pick from without help or direction? If you chose the former, you’re an emotional shopper. Just like almost everyone else. And you’re painfully aware of the gap between the shopper and the experience with e-commerce. E-commerce is flat, commerce is not. Shopping is rarely, if ever, based on cold, logical choices. Even when buying something as simple as a computer accessory online, one tends to look at user reviews. It’s not just about getting the best value for money, it’s about feeling good with the purchase too (see more on this here).

Let’s talk about laziness. And business. Because laziness is big, big business. Although retailers put great stress on customer experiences in-store, e-commerce makes it hard to recreate the same. Users can’t truly sense what a product is like when buying online. Sure, you can look at pictures, zooming in on those wonderful high resolution images. And you can even swivel them a full 360 degrees. Wow! But really, wow? Can that beautifully designed app make up for the experience of picking up a product in your own hands, turning it over, opening it and looking inside? Can a sleek, flat webpage convince you that a specific diamond studded bracelet is just right to add elegance to your significant-other’s bare wrist?

Coming back to emotional intelligence and why it’s important. Emotional intelligence comes into play when buying can be tailored to suit your mood, your preferences, and your personality. You’re shopping for yoga pants, but you’re sitting in front of your screen. Are you really feeling that yoga studio, that downward dog, those deep inhales and exhales? You’re buying a cycling helmet, but are you really feeling like you’re one of the amazing athletes in the Tour de France? You’re considering buying that shiny disco jacket that will rock the dance floor. But where’s the dance floor? All you’ve got is a page, bland and characterless. With price discounts because, of course, online shopping.

And lo behold, here comes the answer to your woes – Virtual Reality. Because with a simple headset, you’re inside that yoga studio choosing your pants. You’re in the Tour de France, sporting that helmet you’ve just been checking out. You’re like John Travolta on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever, boogeying it up in your blingy jacket. You’re immersed in a different world – one where you know that what you’re buying is exactly what you wanted. Because that’s the way it should be. And because you’re worth it.

Immersed inside moving images, music and video, prompted by algorithms that sense exactly the right kind of things to show you, VR has the power to influence emotional upheavals. It brings a spectrum of emotions to the fore as part of the Virtual Experience, defined as “the psychological and emotional state that consumers undergo while interacting with products in a 3-D environment”. Without the way our emotional responses register people and things around us, we cannot exactly tell what we want. A virtual experience is vivid, involving active and affective psychological states occurring in an individual. Such emotional states influence our perceptions of brands, product quality, and most importantly, our decision making. With VR, the sights and sounds surround you and draw you in emotionally, connecting with the inner You at a subconscious level.

There’s much more you could do – shop with a friend, change clothes virtually in different locales, purchase instantly and in real time. Buy things that impeccably placed product placements indicate that you want – stuff that you hadn’t even realized you needed until that very moment. But you need them now, oh yes. Also, why depend on slow, laborious emails, or unsatisfyingly connect to chatbox Mike who “is here to answer all your queries in a timely and friendly manner”? Instead, summon your personal virtual customer service executive who’ll stand by your side and give you her undivided attention (see our article explaining Enhanced Assistance).

Eye tracking technology is making rapid headway, allowing you to shop without once disconnecting from the virtual environment. Simply flick your gaze to a shopping cart symbol unobtrusively tucked away at the edges of your vision and your purchase is made. Then just wait for the email confirming your order and the delivery date. Virtual Reality is changing the way we shop. And it’s not just about the exciting new technology. And it’s not just about the ease of using smartphones to do it. It’s about something much deeper, more primal, and far more emotional. It’s about the way we feel. And that’s something that e-commerce alone can never do. So, welcome to v-commerce.

Bricks to Clicks and Back Again

When you need to buy something, what’s your first thought – walk into a store, or buy online? Research shows that most people don’t fit neatly into either of these categories. There are more factors at play – factors that affect how people shop, and which make the case for integrated solutions in fashion retail. Is VR the holy grail of shopping? Will it make brick-and-mortar stores obsolete?

The answer is not a simple yes or no.  Research on the globally rapid adoption of online shopping reveals surprising results. Most people still prefer to shop in-store rather than buying online, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom that online shopping is the be-all and end-all of fashion retail. A staggering 76% of shoppers still prefer to shop for apparel in brick and mortar stores. But consumer behavior has changed. Combining convenience with experience is the new way forward, says a recent study by InReality. It revealed that 75% of shoppers use their mobile phones in stores to boost their shopping experiences. Herein lies a massive, untapped opportunity. Research has already shown that consumers are open to buying just about anything online, provided that the right experience is delivered. VR/AR is the next step in delivering such in-store experiences to customers at home or, well, in stores.

Although still in its infancy, 55% of consumers believe that VR e-commerce will impact their buying decisions. 62% are interested in trying VR shopping. Nearly a quarter plan to buy a VR device in the coming year. Many consumers now do their research in-store, not online, and a quarter are using their mobiles to make purchases while inside physical stores. Traditional retailers need to bring virtual experiences into stores to capitalize on this market. A third of consumers say that they would shop more with retailers that offer a VR experience, and a quarter say that VR would encourage them to purchase more online.

The attraction of virtual fitting rooms can’t be denied. They enable customers to try and buy, without once ever physically trying things on. They save time, boost engagement, and enhance brand image. The desirability to consumers is clear, but retailers also benefit tremendously. Using virtual mirrors and VR/AR in store, brands can stock less inventory while gathering data on consumer behavior – what works and what just doesn’t. For e-retailers, these benefits are even more pronounced, resulting in far fewer product returns and much better inventory management. But neither of these approaches independently deliver the perfect shopping experience. The need is for hybrid models that combine the ease of online purchases with the reality of physical experiences. More and more physical stores are establishing online presences, and now e-retailers are venturing into brick and mortar. When it comes to such hybrid retail models, Virtual Reality not only holds the most promise, but also the most excitement.

Having a mobile app is no longer enough – enhanced technology is making all the difference. This is where VR/AR steps in to neatly fill the gaps, delivering seamless experiences with convenience. As time goes on, consumers will gravitate towards complete brand experiences, regardless of physical or virtual location. Tick the right boxes and one gets happy shoppers, happy retailers.