This morning I woke up with a thought: “how could VR be used for retail and services?” The thought was prompted by a video I recently watched of Gary Vaynerchuk speaking to an audience and he just casually mentioned that people should be paying attention to VR for retail. In the moment I was like huh? That seems gimicky to me.
But then the thought lingered in my mind.
So when I woke up this morning I decided to do some research. Turns out publications like Forbes have been writing about the use of AR and VR since 2018. This is not a new idea, but it is one that has taken time to gain any type of popularity. I would argue that it still isn’t anywhere near being a popular idea.
Who is Using VR?
I have a family connection to an architect who designs hospitals. I can remember a number of years ago that they were discussing the use of VR to help show hospital directors and CEOs what the hospital would look like. So instead of showing drawing and mock-up images, these individuals were now able to step inside the future hospital and get a feel for the space as if they were really walking around it.
This makes sense as an application for VR and I feel like the difference that makes for the architecture industry is significant. Contrast that to the retail example that Gary V was talking about, I thought that VR in shopping would be ridiculous.
This would require everyone to own a VR device. Now, most of our phones are actually already capable of this. In fact there are YouTube videos that you can watch using your phone and a set of VR goggles that immerse you in the video. So we are halfway there but the goggles range in price and quality so that can be tricky.
But let’s say everyone is ready with the goggles and the technology to take advantage of VR in the retail space. This could create a number of options for retailers. As a consumer I could enter store in VR and look around for a pair of pants, for example. If I find a pair I like I might be able to try them on in VR, given my phone stores data about my measurements. If you’ve ever bought a pair of jeans online in “your size” only to receive them and have them be too big or too small, then you can see how this would be a very cool application of VR.
But again, this all depends on consumers having the tools to access this type of shopping and the retailers have the manpower and technology to develop this. Which, if you read between the lines, will mean that this is reserved to the wealthy and the mega-retailers.
So after I had done some research and added and removed a number of different VR goggles from my Amazon shopping cart, I started thinking about how this could be applied to service-based businesses like a personal training facility.
VR at the Gym
The following examples are very specific to the gym setting that I work in, but I do believe that these ideas could be modified to fit your working environment as well.
When I think about VR and AR (augmented reality) at the gym I can imagine a few different applications.
We are currently working on creating video content to help answer clients questions and to help give new clients a better understanding of what the personal training experience is like at Free Form Fitness.
If we were to use VR we could actually take these clients to the specific gym they are looking at training at and take them on a virtual tour of the facilities answering the most frequently asked questions and maybe even including a virtual testimonial in this video. So now not only are we onboarding the client with a welcome package and video series, but we have given them a chance to imagine their lives within the space. That familiarity makes people more inclined to spend their money at that specific business.
We also have a Virtual training option, which brings 1-1 personal training sessions into the home via a zoom call. Many people feel like these sessions could never compare to what you get at the gym. But what if we took people through a workout using VR and showed them that even with goggles on they have enough space and equipment to get a great workout from home.
There are a lot of cool ways you could help introduce a client to the personal training experience using VR.
Now AR has a few applications as well. During the consultations we typically take the new client on a tour of the facility and explain that in 1 area people typically stretch, in another area we use specific equipment for specific exercises. But what if we gave the new client an iPad (which we already have at the gym) and let them point to different areas around the gym and see how each space is used.
I think about all of the young, nervous clients that I used to train. It would take them several sessions to understand the general flow of the space and how they could use each space while they were waiting for their session to begin, or after their session during their cool down. Having a visual representation of this would eliminate all of those nerves, making people feel even more comfortable with the service you are providing.
Outside of the personal training studio space, larger big-box style gyms could provide AR that would demonstrate to their members how to safely use different pieces of equipment. On certain machines they have images that show how to use it, but even those can be confusing. And what about free weights, suspension trainers, and squat racks? What if a member could point their camera at one of those and be shown a number of exercises ranging from beginner to advanced that are possible?
This Tech Can Take Gym Spaces to the Next Level
I have a number of other ideas that would massively improve the gym experience and even make life easier for the personal trainers and facility managers as well, but I’ll save those for another day.
The point I am trying to make it that although AR, VR and even AI may seem confusing or too futuristic, this is the time to start exploring their applications. Especially if you are in the marketing space like I am. My whole purpose is to assess the market and then figure out how the company can deliver exceptional service to our clients, therefore resulting in a greater piece of the market-pie.
As marketers this tech-tools should be at the front of our minds because their applications could improve and augment the experience of our clients. And if you can create new best practices using this tech, and create a whole new set of experiences for the clients – well, wouldn’t that be something?
Where do I go from this explosion of curiosity and ideas? I’ve added a tech board to my feedly app so I can stay on top of trends and continue to feed these curiosities and ideas. I’ll continue to explore and theorize all of the ways this emerging tech could be integrated into the industry and daydream about the way it could change the future of the industry forever.