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

Written by David Bryan, June 8, 2016
WebVR

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

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 website design in the near future using VR.

But just how far virtual reality website 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 web 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 website 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 website 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 website design look like?

There are numerous ways that a business could incorporate virtual reality into their website 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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