Ikea is taking window shopping to a new level.
The Swedish furniture chain has launched its first virtual reality experiment, enabling owners of the HTC (HTC) Vive explore a virtual kitchen to visualize its cabinet and counter offerings via the headset.
“Virtual reality is developing quickly and in five to ten years it will be an integrated part of people’s lives,” said Jesper Brodin, managing director at IKEA of Sweden and range & supply manager at Ikea (IKEA) Group, in Wednesday’s announcement. “We [believe] virtual reality will play a major role in the future of our customers.”
Looking at the long term, explained Broden, VR could let customers test out a product before purchasing it. Yet the app, launched today and available for free via the Steam digital distribution service, is still a long way from that.
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Within the Ikea virtual reality experience, you’ll find yourself standing alone in a kitchen. Somewhere, off in the distance, a child is talking (presumably in Swedish), but it’s mainly background noise. Over by the window, you’ll hear birds and what sounds like an ocean. Since you’re unsupervised, you do what any visitor in a stranger’s home would do: you poke around.
You can open drawers to see what they’ve got as far as utensils and pots and pans. You can read their wall-sized message board and if see they’ve got holidays coming up. But because this is an interactive demo, you can also vandalize the joint a bit, changing the color of cabinets and drawers to get a different view.
Also thanks to virtual reality, you can adjust your height and view the kitchen from your normal perspective, which range from that of a small child or an especially tall person. (Your unknown hosts, incidentally, are fanatical about ensuring there are no dust bunnies.) Finally, if you get bored in this home, there are two more virtual kitchens to explore in the app.
Ikea is getting an early start in the VR advertising world, but it’s not the only company that sees potential in the digital space. At the recent South by Southwest conference in March, several panels convened to discuss how the technology could disrupt shopping as we know it today.
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“You can go into the store, but you can do it from the comfort of your own bed,” said Victor Lee, senior vice president of digital marketing at Hasbro. “You can try [clothes] on. Want to go further? Take [an item] out the box. And when you’re done, drag it into this cart and you’ve bought it. And you didn’t have to put your hands on it. That’s what VR is going to do. It’s going to change retail.”
For the most part, though, retail brands are currently using virtual reality to build awareness more than boost sales. Companies like The North Face have said they are focused on emphasizing the lifestyle their brand represents, putting together videos taking customers to locales like Yosemite National Park to hike and rock climb.
“I think [virtual reality] is like social media in 2008,” said Eric Oliver, director of digital marketing at The North Face. “For us, I want our brand to be in your consideration set when you buy a jacket next time. I want to be in your consideration set because we’re offering some entertainment at home. … We want to elevate your experienced overall and virtual reality is one part of the way we’re doing that.”