What lies ahead for Virtual and Augmented Reality?

Thanks to a variety of innovations from Google, HTC, and Microsoft, 2016 could very well go down as the year that paved the way for virtual reality.

According to IDC’s new Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, worldwide revenues for this market are expected to grow from $5.2 billion in 2016, to nearly $162 billion by 2020 – a 181 per cent compound annual growth rate.

As AR and VR become more mainstream, less expensive equipment will be hitting the market, providing a ripe opportunity for businesses to adopt the technology on a wider scale. As developers jump on the VR train, new apps, headsets, and technological uses are emerging at an unprecedented rate. And while there will certainly be some bumps along the way, the future looks bright for this industry.

Pieter Aarts, CEO & Co-Founder of virtual staging startup roOomy, shared his thoughts on what we can expect to see in the next few years with virtual reality.

1. How are businesses currently using virtual and augmented reality?

Many businesses are now embracing virtual reality as a cost effective method to improve traditional operations. For example, virtual reality has become an extremely powerful marketing tool – a means to engage with audiences and prospective customers on a completely new level.

Offering an impressive ROI, this technology can help businesses reduce the cost of customer engagement, tighten sales cycles, and expand brand recognition. With virtual reality tools becoming more mainstream, and significantly less expensive, small businesses should begin investing to improve processes like employee training and orientation, interviewing candidates, organising company-wide meetings across multiple offices, and even “attending” cross-country conferences.

2. How might businesses use VR in the future, and how long do you expect it to take to truly become “mainstream?"

“V-commerce” and “mixed reality” are important to the future of omni-channel sales. Virtual reality changes the way information is consumed and how audiences interact with products, and it will eventually help to drive purchase decisions.

In the next 2-4 years, we will see the full convergence of VR with AR, and that will spur the mainstream use of these technologies. Driven by the popularity and accessibility of mobile devices, this convergence creates a mixed reality that will penetrate how information is processed in our everyday lives. We’ve already seen glimpses of the widespread use of augmented reality with Pokemon GO – in fact, there are over 35 million players at this point and Niantic is raking in nearly $1.6 million daily, according to TechCrunch.

Now that developers recognise the power of virtual and augmented reality, there will be a drastic spike in the number of games, apps, and products using these technologies.

3. Which industries will see the biggest transformation from virtual reality? 

The real estate and home furnishing industry is set to see the biggest transformation thanks to virtual reality. One of the most prominent issues hindering home and furniture sales lies with shoppers’ inability to visualise what a space would look like once they’re actually living there. There’s a lot of guesswork that goes into house hunting, and finding the right home can be a tedious process that requires consumers to visit dozens of homes before finding one that fits the bill.

Virtual reality, and more specifically virtual staging, is changing the way in which real estate agents, consumers, and home furnishings retailers work together. For example, our platform allows real estate agents to virtually stage a property so that home shoppers can see what it looks like fully furnished before even stepping foot onsite. Not only does this save time for the home shopper, but the real estate agent is able to show multiple staged homes at the same time, generating a higher level of efficiency and conversion. We live in an age where 90 per cent of home buyers rely on the internet as one of their primary research sources and 52 per cent turn to the web as the first step in their hunt. Virtual reality advancements will continue to spur this trend.   

“Try before you buy” is a phrase that every consumer has muttered at some point in their lives when shopping. Virtual and augmented reality implementation is making this a reality. Retailers are now able to partner with VR providers to incorporate this technology into their brick-and-mortar and online stores.

Circling back on the visualisation issue, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with purchasing big ticket items online, like a couch – and we’re trending towards an age where shoppers can virtually “try on” an outfit before swiping their cards. On the business side, virtual reality will reduce exchanges and buyer remorse, saving retailers time by cutting down on returns, refunds and other issues that can frustrate customers. Additionally, retailers won’t have to spend as much time persuading a shopper to purchase an item as the technology will essentially do all the talking.

We are in the midst of a virtual reality revolution, and the businesses and industries that get in early will put themselves in a great position as innovators. In this digital-first age, developers are constantly pushing the boundaries to improve all aspects of our everyday lives. It is an exciting time to watch this evolution.

Image Credit: Knight Center for Journalism / Flickr