Virtual Reality Web Design; Why Every Business Will Need to Factor VR into Their Digital Marketing

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Editor’s Note:  In this update, we take a look at our past blog post and give it a fresh, new take on the importance of VR web design in the coming months and years. Our original post was created in June 2016 and we have revisited the topic to give readers an updated opinion on where things currently stand when it comes to virtual reality and why every business needs to consider this as part of their web design and digital marketing strategy more than ever.

Why businesses need to consider VR

Most businesses justify their lack of VR strategy by identifying the reasoning “it’s too new” or “too niche for investment”, so I want to explain why that is somewhat of a fallacy. Thinking of VR as something separate from a ‘normal’ interactive web experience isn’t the right way to look at things. For example, it is possible to have a VR website that is backwards compatible with traditional web browsers so that the majority of users can still interact with the site normally. This is similar to how you can experience 360-degree videos on YouTube in either VR or from your desktop.

Website content and media from a VR headset or desktop

Experience website content and media from your VR headset or from a desktop

Image credit – Vive.com

The worst case scenario is that you have a feature on your website that is media rich and highly interactive. This helps to keep the user’s interest and curiosity in addition to giving them multiple ways to interact with an otherwise static and standard page. This is highly impactful when it comes to interactive car showrooms for example, where customers can view different vehicle configurations from multiple viewing angles which would be very difficult to achieve even in person.

Virtual reality itself isn’t going anywhere – its been around in one capacity or another since the early 80s, albeit in primitive forms. Hardware manufacturers and VR companies such as Oculus and Vive / Valve are constantly testing new, more convenient prototypes to be able to put more headsets out with improved ergonomic hardware for a more competitive price point. Virtual reality is even being experienced in some unexpected places, such as affordable smartphones and even recently Nintendo’s Switch console. The point is, without realising it, you are likely to have at least one VR compatible device in your home and its’ only expected to get easier to have a virtual reality experience in some form as time goes on.

How virtual reality experiences will evolve over time

Virtual reality and augmented reality become one

My prediction is that virtual reality and augmented reality experiences will be become increasingly important to the customer experience. It’s easy to imagine a future where VR and AR experiences are combined in some instances to give a truly immersive and information-rich experience in the virtual world, but also augment real life data on top of that with real-time video data feeds.

Google Maps, Google Glass and location based businesses

This type of experience will be integrated into Google Maps and location based businesses too, having an augmented reality overlay displaying an interface over businesses showing opening hours, special offers and availability of common items without needing to enter the store. Of course, we are some way off that currently, but its where things are progressing towards (with another version of Google Glass inevitably coming at some point). Customers not only like practical solutions when it comes to retail, but ones that are new and exciting and currently in the VR and AR space. it is definitely possible to tick both of those boxes when it comes to creating great customer experiences.

How different industries could benefit from VR integration

VR integration already makes things possible that would otherwise be impossible when it comes to new customer experiences and informative content. Touching upon the car showroom as my regular go-to example shows other industries where virtual reality could benefit and surpass existing experiences for your customers and clients.

Here are a few that came to mind when thinking about the future of VR implementation and which industries could benefit immediately from it:

Architecture and engineering

Being able to utilise virtual reality to quickly come up with or receive proof of concept is not only convenient but essential in this day and age where most things are instant.

VR has the ability to create experiences that surpass the physical retail experience by utilising the latest technologies in and around virtual reality. These types of features can be achieved to allow the client to experience a fully immersive 3D VR representation of room designs, house layouts, 3D model creations / systems in addition to viewing things like clothing in first person and even trying clothes on via the creation of a VR avatar that closely resembles you in real life.

The list goes on and on when it comes to industries that can be revolutionised via the use of AR and VR. Its exciting to be able to bring a superior experience right into the customers living rooms and entertainment systems that not only is new and exciting, but more convenient also.

Retail and shopping 

It’s easy to imagine a future where online shopping is completely transformed via the utilisation of high-speed internet connections and virtual reality / augmented reality compatible headsets or glasses.

Instead of choosing what food to buy from the supermarket website, you will simply be able to browse either real or virtual shelves with detailed information about the product. Many people prefer shopping in person currently because of this very reason – not being able to see what they are buying is a big negative so offering AR to remedy this will get a lot more people onboard with utilising new technologies to improve the shopping experience.

As a lot of people want to see exactly what they are buying, technologies via VR and AR will offer a convenient alternative to having to stand in long queues just to get your weekly shop completed.

The purpose of the above isn’t just to predict where augmented reality or virtual reality is going, it’s to illustrate the untapped potential of VR and AR that is completely possible today.

VR isn’t just a gimmick and it certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. VR will continue to be at the forefront of new customer experiences for many years to come and will continue to evolve alongside other similar technologies such as faster low latency internet connectivity for near instant response times and AR which will help fill in the gaps for those still hesitant to fully switch from physical to artificial representations of products when it comes to things like supermarkets and certain types of retail.

How to get your feet wet without going ‘all in’ regarding VR

I understand that many small to medium businesses are hearing the points mentioned and like the thought of implementing VR in some form, but probably don’t want to take too much of a financial hit to achieve it.

The easiest and most cost-effective way to get started (depending on your business) would be something like a 360-degree video. This will be backwards-compatible for users without the need for a VR headset  and can be viewed by any device that supports video playback.

Most of these devices will be able to drag around the screen too in order to see different perspectives of the shot without the need for any special equipment. Obviously, there are many other smarter and interesting ways that you can incorporate VR web design into your strategy, but it really comes down to what type of business you have and which products or service you’re selling. Hopefully with some of the examples given, you will be able to get the general idea of how these things can be pieced together even if it’s by integrating something as simple as a 360 video to start with.

If you are an online eCommerce store, you could start by offering to view certain products in virtual reality where beneficial. Like mentioned before, those without VR headsets can still take advantage of these features by simply clicking and dragging rather than moving their head around as they would with a VR headset equipped.

There are plenty of ways to get started with VR website or digital marketing experience, best advice is to just test a few ideas out that are low investment in terms of time and money and see how it will benefit your website and enrich it with varied ways to browse your store.

Editor’s Note:  We’ve decided to update this post to make it more relevant to the latest technologies and trends in VR. Our original blog post was added back in June 2016, here we’ve added a ‘2019 update’ looking further into the future of VR website design.

— 2016 article  —

In our previous articles we’ve explored open source VR and how businesses and marketers can use VR. One of the most obvious applications is website design, and this is what we do best at Opace. Over the years we’ve swiftly adapted to the changes in the market, such as with open source, social media and responsive web design. It’s clear to see that the virtual reality industry is going to be huge and with this in mind we’re expecting to have to adapt once again to a new approach to web design in the near future using VR.

But just how far virtual reality web design goes is still very much a topic of debate. Will it be simple virtual eCommerce function where users can view products in virtual reality? Or will a whole website be virtual, allowing you to navigate through from page to page in a 3D virtual environment? Or further still, will businesses go so far as to recreate their physical store as a virtual one which users can experience from the comfort of their homes?

This article is part of our series of articles below on “VR for business”:

  1. The History, Rise & Fall of Virtual Reality
  2. Has Oculus Lost the First Generation of Virtual Reality to HTC
  3. How Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality
  4. Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality & the Applications for Business
  5. Open Source Virtual Reality and What This Means for Business
  6. Virtual Reality Web Design; Why Every Business Will Need to Factor VR into Their Digital Marketing
  7. Virtual Reality eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)
  8. The Lowdown from Our VR Gurus, Rob and Adam

We would love to encourage some discussion and debate around where this interesting and game-changing technology is heading, so please feel free to leave us a comment below or on social media and we’ll get back to you.

In this article we will look at virtual reality website design and why we believe every business will need to factor virtual reality into their web design and digital marketing strategies.

How important is VR website design?

We have already previously looked at how businesses could use virtual reality to their advantage. Companies like VRVideo have already put together videos such as the one below which allows prospective home buyers to view potential new homes in virtual reality. The company’s founder, Edwin Rogers, says that “virtual reality video is a great solution” as “real estate agents can hand a customer an iPad or a VR headset and show them 10-20 listings without leaving the office.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY6-9wdJX2k

Alongside this, we’ve seen other examples such as Marriott’s #getteleported campaign and River Island’s virtual reality film at #LFW, so we know that businesses are looking at ways of displaying virtual reality to their customers, but why not simply pre-build this into their existing web design?

As it stands virtual reality is still in its early years (at least this new boom of virtual reality is) and no one truly knows what to expect from it. Businesses that have adopted it, such as with the examples above, are stand-alone examples. It requires consumers to go to a particular event, try the experience for themselves while the rest of us can play it back on YouTube and marvel at how amazing it is. As of the moment, these examples aren’t making consumer’s experiences easier, it’s more just to showcase the power of virtual reality.

Once businesses start incorporating virtual reality into their website design, that’s when it will begin to make a real difference for consumers. Of course, this is dependent on the number of households that will own a virtual reality headsets and which headsets they will own, but with some analysts predicting that it could be one of the most disruptive technologies for a decade, it’s likely that this will be many households.

While businesses wait for virtual reality to become more mainstream, it’s likely that they will be slow on the uptake of incorporating it into their web design and digital marketing strategies. But this doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, predicted in 2007 that “there’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” Eight years later, the iPhone was one of the main reasons that Google forced companies to consider responsive web design. There’s absolutely no reason why virtual reality couldn’t have the same impact.

What could virtual reality web design look like?

There are numerous ways that a business could incorporate virtual reality into their web design or their marketing strategies.

Virtual reality website navigation

Virtual reality website navigation – credit Flickr

Viewing eCommerce products

As mentioned earlier, simply being able to view products on a website like Amazon in virtual reality would do wonders in allowing customers to get a better feel for the product that they are about to purchase. Almost two-thirds of shoppers who purchased women’s clothing online in the last six months returned at least one of the items back; virtual reality would have the chance of drastically reducing this figure. Many retailers offer a free returns policy, but this is an expense that the business must suffer. Returns costs companies over $1 trillion worldwide, and technology like virtual reality could mean that people will no longer purchase items, hope for the best and then rely on free returns if it doesn’t quite work out.

Virtual stores

Businesses could go further, though and recreate a whole physical store online which will allow users to walk around and browse through the various items. 85% of consumers still prefer to shop in a physical store, and a well-crafted virtual reality experience could offer this. Perhaps users could get assistance from staff members in a virtual experience, navigate around a website in the virtual environment or simply place items of furniture around their house to get a better feel for it.

There are numerous ways of applying virtual reality to website design, and it will be interesting to see what route businesses take.

Should businesses adopt VR digital marketing strategies?

It took eight years since the release of the first iPhone for Google to change their algorithm to make it mobile responsive. Before this, businesses didn’t need to have responsive websites, although the forward thinkers certainly knew it was the right thing to do. In the same way, businesses don’t need to adopt virtual reality into their marketing strategies for the moment. But this will most likely change when one company nails it, and suddenly it becomes a scramble for everyone to have it.

Some experts in the virtual reality space gave their opinion on whether or not businesses should be looking at incorporating virtual reality into their website design. Dean Johnson, Head of Innovation at Brandwidth, said “Yes…if VR enhances their existing product or service.” Bertie Millis, Managing Director of Virtual Umbrella, agreed, saying that it “will set you aside from your competitors and give you a unique channel to communicate to your customers.”

However, Mark Curtis, Founder and COO of Fjord, believes that it’s too early, saying that “any marketing at this stage would be highly experimental.” This is, of course, true, as virtual reality is still in such an early stage. But all of those interviewed agreed that the impact virtual reality will have is heading in only one way; eventually, businesses will need to incorporate virtual reality into their digital marketing strategies.

A truly virtual World Wide Web?

There is the potential one day of having a truly virtual world wide web, whereby you can virtually click though links; like one huge interconnected web of information, data, and visuals. These links could contain their own virtual environments, such as rather than reading about a famous battle in history on Wikipedia, you get teleported to that exact battle and witness it for yourself.

Casey Yee, a UX design engineer at Mozilla, has attempted something similar with the WebVR standard, but for now it seems this kind of future is a long way off. Hardly any websites support virtual reality, and trying to establish this interconnectivity throughout the world wide web poses the same sort of challenges as trying to give every country and city in the world access to the internet; it’ll most likely happen one day, but it’ll take a community effort from everyone involved.

Mozilla’s WebVR

Mozilla’s WebVR – credit: Slideshare

For now, the focus for businesses will be on what they can do for their website alone. Incorporating virtual reality into their website will make the consumer’s experience much easier and smoother, but first, there needs to be agencies that offer this service, consumers that own the headsets and the ability for websites to support it. It may seem a long way off, but following the principles of Moore’s Law, the likelihood is that we’ll see this very quickly, and those businesses that adopt it will find themselves pushing ahead of their competitors.

Rob from Opace points out that the “HTC Vive has only been out for one month and already the tech is better with leap motion”, so it’s better to expect virtual reality website sooner rather than later. At Opace we’re certainly looking forward to the day when we can provide virtual reality website design as a service.

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