Over the last few decades, we've seen technology change the way we do business in a fundamental way. Not only has the internet given us access to more information than we know what to do with, but it's also given rise to new technologies like smartphones, cloud computing and e-commerce – all innovations that have changed the business landscape, both for large enterprises and small businesses.
Now we find ourselves on the cusp of yet another technological revolution. At Dell, we believe that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will have as big an impact on how we do business as the technologies mentioned above. AR and VR are already revolutionizing medicine, architecture and design, and the possibilities for small businesses are profound. They not only offer a new way for businesses to demonstrate products and services but can even change how companies manage operations, develop prototypes and train staff.
AR vs. VR: What's the difference?
While these two types of technology may both reshape our environment and our experiences, AR and VR are not synonymous. Augmented reality adds a digital layer to devices reading the real world. In addition, it's readily available on your smartphone. A recent AR juggernaut was the popular Pokémon GO mobile game, which overlaid animated creatures into players' actual surroundings. By contrast, virtual reality is an immersive technology. It replaces the real world with an entirely new visualized 3D space, traditionally via headset. The implications of these technologies for small business are significant. Projections suggest that by 2025, AR/VR stands to benefit the real estate industry by $2.6 billion, the retail industry by $1.6 billion and the travel industry by $4.1 billion.
Re-envisioning what's possible with AR
When polled, 71% of customers said they would shop more often at a retailer offering good AR, and 41% said they would be willing to pay more for an item if AR was part of their shopping experience. Whether these AR experiences allow customers to "try on" garments digitally from the comfort of their own homes or gain additional designer information by pointing their phone at items in a store, we've only just begun to tap the potential of augmenting consumers' purchasing journeys.
Not only is the potential return on investment on AR impressive, but barriers to entry are quite low. Almost every customer has a smartphone, with many of the latest models doubling as accessible and effective AR devices. Highly scalable AR technology syncs with today's mobile devices, often integrating with the camera. At the same time, data is collectible through analytics software, enabling you to monitor engagement and click through during the AR experience.
There's no better way to present product demos than AR. As a good example, take the multibillion-dollar home improvement industry. Where shopping for furnishings in the past involved a process of trial and error – who knew that couch would be so big? And who picked chartreuse? – today, AR apps like Rooomy allow customers to test run their selections in their existing spaces. AR liberates consumers to try out the products they may otherwise have held off on buying because they couldn't adequately test them.
Leveraging AR for small business
For all its potential, there's a right and wrong way for small businesses to use AR. Your methods should be gimmick-free, and customers must receive something of value. The right use of AR requires communicating important information to help customers along the path to purchase, and it must solve a real problem.
When deciding how to use AR, a business owner must determine specific objectives and their desired outcomes. While a consultant or agency can help you come up with a plan tailored to your business, working with a third party that understands the technology's possibilities and limitations is crucial. The focus shouldn't just be on incorporating a fun new technology, but on helping your brand strategically. The right use of AR has provable business value.
VR and the transformation of retail space
Not long ago, the use of VR for small business was impractical due to not only the technology's price but the headset limitations. That's changing. Dell is especially excited about the possibilities for VR in businesses of all sizes. With wider VR adoption, it's becoming more affordable for SBs to jump on board.
Dell has led the charge, delivering immersive systems and integrating leading VR imaging, graphics, processing power and interactive technology into its PCs. For a company like 30 Ninjas, this increased agility was a game-changer. 30 Ninjas develops, writes and produces dynamic and engaging VR, multi-platform, and interactive content. While the application of VR in the film space seems intuitive, forecasters predict that in a few years, media and entertainment will actually be the smallest vertical for commercial VR and AR technology. Instead, the verticals most likely to benefit from VR in the near future include gaming, retail, education, healthcare, the military and various industrial fields.
Imagining the benefits of VR
As with AR, the possibilities of VR for small business are endless. If you can imagine it as a small business owner, it can happen. The real estate industry is already benefiting from VR, for example, as the technology allows clients to experience 3D walkthroughs of existing properties – meaning realtors can market listings anywhere on the planet. Similarly, VR could help businesses show homes or workspaces to clients before they're even built or decorated. It could also revolutionize online shopping, make prototyping more affordable and change the way companies train their employees. BMW, for instance, has already started using VR when designing vehicle prototypes, and Citigroup is experimenting with VR workstations that allow traders to visualize trends and interact with complex data. As the cost of VR technology continues to go down, small businesses will be able to do similar things.
The new reality is now
Whether you're just starting to think about adopting new digital tools or already down the path of implementing the latest technologies, engaging with augmented or virtual reality is something every business owner should be thinking about.