The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the most devastating events facing humanity in the modern world. It instantly pivoted the priorities of every industry to focus on solving problems related to the pandemic while preparing for the future. Over 90% of executives expect “the fallout from Covid-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, with almost as many asserting that the crisis will have a lasting impact on their customers’ needs”, according to a McKinsey survey of more than 200 organisations across industries. The commitment to innovation has reportedly decreased as companies focus on fixing short-term issues. But historical analysis suggests that companies that innovated through a crisis outperform peers during recovery.
Is it an inflection point for virtual reality?
For decades, extended reality (XR), a collective term for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), has remained elusive from becoming the next mainstream platform. The pandemic has brought back discussion around extended reality solutions as a key to solving some of the challenges. As more and more people remain confined to their homes, organisations are seeking innovative solutions to improve customer experience and engagement. From enterprises trying to improve remote collaboration to multimedia companies looking to plan events for a virtual crowd, maybe it is time for XR to secure its spotlight in the market.
In a recent release, the International Data Corporation (IDC) reports a decline in AR/VR spending in 2020 due reduction in organisational IT spend. But in the long- term, IDC estimates worldwide AR/VR spending to increase to reach $136.9 billion by 2024 at a 76.9 percent% CAGR. They predict that business use use-cases will account for 50% of all AR/VR spending in 2020, led by training for VR and industrial maintenance for AR. For instance, the ease of scalability of cloud-based AR/VR solutions is helping manufacturers build new products. A recent survey published by TechRepublic states that 29% of respondents reported a 25% increase in production efficiency, while 60% are using cloud-AR/VR to virtually supplement labour on production floors.
Let us explore some of the XR solutions being considered across various industries.
‘Safe shopping’ – A retail industry imperative
Malls and shopping centres across the world have been deserted. To limit the spread of the Coronavirus, retail stores are implementing social distancing markers, store dividers, and limiting the number of customers allowed per square foot. While these measures have provided a temporary solution, in the long run, retailers would have to look at emerging technologies for solutions.
Virtual reality companies are offering solutions that tackle the need for social distancing and safe shopping with innovative platforms. For instance, LifeStyles In 360, a Florida-based tech company, is bringing the in-store shopping experience to the consumer’s living room. Unlike other platforms, LifeStyles In 360 VR allows customers to walk into a store, pick products off the shelf, and make a purchase without leaving the confines of their home. Meanwhile, Siduri, a Pinot Noir specialist firm, recently announced a first-of-its-kind photorealistic holographic Web AR experience that allows users to engage with the brand in a light-hearted, immersive, and educational way. Built with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios technology, a user just needs to scan a QR code or click a link to access the new AR experience.
VR in retail sectors is being explored by top brands such as Marks & Spencer creating virtual in-store experiences. These pop-up virtual reality showrooms allow customers to pick and drop items from its high-end Loft homeware range to create their ideal living spaces. Companies like BT Sport are improving their in-store content delivery to increase footfall and dwell time at their stores in London. For instance, they displayed a Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal live in VR for the fans to enjoy the experience of a live match.
Tanishq, India’s leading jewellery brand, has entered the market with its ‘digital-first’ strategy to offer a seamless shopping experience for their customers. Their solutions provide an endless-aisle feature wherein customers can browse the stores virtually, get on a video call where a store executive wears and displays the jewelry, add to their shopping cart, and then the product is sent home! Tanishq has rolled out its digital initiative in 230 of its 335 stores, servicing over 2,000 customers in over a month, it was reported. Similarly, De Beers, hit by travel restrictions, has gone online to sell its rough diamonds. The new Buy platform lets its registered buyerss to search and buy in four categories—very high-end; high-end; mid-market and low-end—at the price displayed online, at any time.
The high-end fashion market also took to the cloud during this year’s Paris Fashion Week. The first-ever cloud fashion show saw Lanvin collaborate with video platforms Douyin, Yizhibo, iQiyi, and luxury e-tailer Secoo to create a unique product launch for its latest handbags. Looking to buy makeup products? YouCam Makeup will let you try on makeup and hair colour virtually using their AR beauty app. The company offers cosmetic brands free AR experiences, web subscriptions, and product listing to help them stay connected to their customers.
EdTech, the next generation of schools
With schools and colleges shut for the rest of the year, most institutes have shifted to an online teaching module with video conferencing and online tests. This has led to a remarkable growth in the edtech space with startups coming up with newer solutions for online education and e-learning platforms. According to a report by BARC India and Nielsen, “there has been a 30 percent% increase in the time spent on education apps on smartphones since the lockdown”. For instance, BYJU’s - —India’s leading edtech and online tutoring firm, —saw 7.5 million new users on its platform, while Vedantu crossed a watch time of one billion minutes across its platforms and channels. To further improve the ‘classroom experience’ of students, companies like fotonVR, a Gujarat-based edtech startup, is introducing VR to explain scientific concepts and experiments in 3D.
Tanishq, India’s leading jewellery brand, has entered the market with its ‘digital-first’ strategy to offer a seamless shopping experience for their customers. Their solutions provide an endless-aisle feature wherein customers can browse the stores virtually, get on a video call where a store executive wears and displays the jewelry, add to their shopping cart, and then the product is sent home! Tanishq has rolled out its digital initiative in 230 of its 335 stores, servicing over 2,000 customers in over a month, it was reported. Similarly, De Beers, hit by travel restrictions, has gone online to sell its rough diamonds.
A pandemic streaming, virtual concerts, and cloud clubbing
For every day spent at home, online streaming services are profiting. A new study of consumer habits by Hub states that 28% of consumers have signed up for at least one new streaming service since February 2020. It is estimated that 51% of Internet users worldwide are watching more shows on online streaming services. Netflix alone saw 16 million new signups in the first three months of 2020, while Disney+ added 22 million subscribers.
While streaming services are growing exponentially, other sectors of the entertainment industry are innovating to stay in business. Due to the pandemic, hundreds of conferences and big-ticket events were cancelled or postponed. Faced by health, safety, and long-lasting supply chain concerns, the entertainment industry is bringing concerts and large media events to fans in their living rooms. Virtual concerts and festivals are being organised by some of the biggest names in the music industry and go beyond the live streaming events. For example, hip-hop icon Nelly celebrated the 20th anniversary of his album ‘Country Grammar’ via a 360- degree VR event. Jean-Michel Jarre, the French electronic music pioneer and former president of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), held a virtual electronic show with his signature beats, dazzling lights, and ‘virtual drugs’ that made the screen change colours. Even the clubbing sectors has gone virtual. Cloud-clubbing is putting a new spin to the nightlife of millions with live streaming to create hip-hop Bollywood nights to DJ nights with their favourite artists. A club in Shanghai live-streamed DJs on its video platform Douyin for four hours, earning $1,00,400 in tips from its 71,000 views.
On the other hand, events management is reshaping its services to deliver virtual conferences to physical industries. For instance, HTC recently held a ‘VIVE Ecosystem Conference’ that was completely based on VR technology. Over 2,000 registrants from 55 countries attended the conference represented on screen by their custom avatars. The event marks the first major physical industry event that was completely replaced by an interactive VR digital twin.
Tackling ‘real’ estate
Another business case of AR/VR is in the real estate industry. One of the worse-hit sectors, VR is helping real estate in its transformation. Virtual staging solutions offer buyers and sellers an immersive home-tour experience and aid the customers’ decision-making process. Sites like Zillow, an online real estate database company, are already offering sellers, agents, landlords, and property managers solutions to create 3D home tours. The number of 3D home virtual tours created went up over 750% within a month of lockdown announcements.
Take a VR vacation
Across the world, almost all travel plans have been postponed or cancelled, international travel stopped (unless it is an emergency), and the travel and tourism industry is at a standstill. As we sit in our homes, innovators are working on taking you on a VR vacation—to almost any place in the world. The Japan VR tour, for example, offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Japan’s unique travel spots. From the white sands of Nagannu Island to the bright cherry blossoms of Hirosaki Park—take a virtual tour of all the places from the comfort of your home.
Views are personal. The author is chief marketing and strategy officer, Microland.