Virtual reality for retail gets airtime at #CannesLions
By Rachel Arthur

Sapient Nitro is using the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity as an opportunity to debut its new VR experience designed specifically for shopping. Created as a retail prototype, it’s an immersive piece of content that takes the user on a virtual journey to The Apartment by The Line store, in New York’s Soho.

Jun 24, 2015
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Virtual reality is heavily integrated in the gaming space, but progressively finding avenues into other industries too. Travel is an obvious one, and increasingly, so is retail.

It’s on that basis Sapient Nitro is using the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity as an opportunity to debut its new VR experience designed specifically for shopping. Created as a retail prototype, it’s an immersive piece of content that takes the user on a virtual journey to The Apartment by The Line store, in New York’s Soho.

Wearing a Samsung Gear VR headset with a smartphone attached to the front of it, users can explore the store, focusing in on overlaid diamond shapes in order to activate new pieces of content; like access to another area of the space or to more information about items shown.

Chris Szadkowski, creative director at SapientNitro, said the aim was to demonstrate the possibilities around shopping fashion or lifestyle products through a VR experience. “We’re putting [the items] into the context of how people want to see them. You can appreciate how the clothes fit on regular people, how they look in the room, and how they fall in the light,” he explained.

SapientNitro’s virtual reality retail experience at The Apartment by The Line

The virtual pop-up shop even lets users tap on the side of the headset to buy. It stores all the items in a basket ready for checkout once they’ve finished exploring. It’s in there they can add in detail like sizing or colour if necessary too; though the system is also set up to know your personal specifications from the beginning.

In spite of that functionality, the experience is actually a relatively laid-back one. There’s the option to slowly peruse the store, to hear details about what’s on show thanks to headphones you wear over the top, and to meander through different rooms. This isn’t aimed at the on-the-go shopper, but perhaps those after a more luxurious affair.

Szadkowski says the intention was to focus primarily on storytelling, even though a full end-to-end solution, and a drive towards transaction is equally at the heart of it. “Virtual reality is the only piece of tech out there that puts your consumer at the centre of the story. That’s the most exciting part of it. Now they can interact and be a part of a story rather than just watch it.”

Adrian Slobin, global innovation lead at SapientNitro, said the future isn’t going to be about who owns a VR headset, but who you can convince to put one on again. “Brands will need to create stories to get consumers to keep coming back,” he commented.

WGSN associate editor Laura Saunter experiencing the SapientNitro virtual reality pop-up shop

He imagines retail uptake will begin initially in physical stores – with kiosks or installations created for shoppers to enjoy the new experiences. It makes sense for luxury, he suggested, with reference to a similar initiative Dior has recently launched related to its catwalk show, but also for big box retailers like Target or Home Depot who have informational content that will be relevant to the user.

It’s a clear consumer engagement tool, and one that is swiftly on its way to being seen as more than a gimmick, he insisted. He referred to VR as similarly revolutionary as Netscape in 1995. “A lot of sceptics back then questioned whether they really needed a website. Needless to say those who didn’t do it are the ones who ended up out of business.”

But he admitted there will be mistakes, of course. “This is a conversation starter at this point. It’s nascent. No one knows yet exactly what’s going to work, but this shows one set of possibilities.”

Meanwhile, Google Cardboard, a VR headset made out of – you guessed it – cardboard, took home the mobile Grand Prix at Cannes Lions earlier this week, honoured for the fact it’s an enabler for such technology to easily reach consumers. In doing so it helped prove that VR is gaining attention as the next frontier in content creation at a week dedicated to new creative pursuits.

A number of further VR experiences are set to follow at the festival when the Lions Innovation days – an off-shoot from the main festival dedicated to data, technology and creativity – start on Thursday.


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