Managing director of Virtual Worlds, Nathan Maclean, reveals why he believes virtual reality is not just a great way of showcasing designs to customers – it's actually vital for the future survival of your business.
"When it comes to change and embracing new technology, we’re often typically British and exercise caution. When Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone in the 1800s, it was met with hesitancy. There was distrust among the population when electricity was first used to power our homes – and as for the worldwide web, that will never last!
"There are often problems on the manufacturing side too. Nokia, for example, cornered the market with their mobile phone technology, boasting at its peak a 40% market share, but their failure to react to the changing market and technology saw a spectacular plummet from glory.
"Similar scenes are being played out when it comes to the KBB industry and virtual reality. We come across some retailers who still feel virtual reality is little more than a gimmick. Others feel it’s a ‘nice to have’ and others are of the mind that the technology is simply not developed enough to tell if it’s just one more fad. And then, of course, there are those who follow a common misconception that the headset causes ‘travel sickness’, so they’re better sticking with what they’ve got.
"However, let the technology that’s gone before be a lesson to us all; it’s folly for retailers to dismiss this necessary revolution in our industry. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that consumer behaviour can turn on a die. And that a huge amount of people who may have been sceptical about letting digital technology into their lives quickly became reliant on it to stay in touch, keep working and even ensure that plans for their new kitchen or bathroom remained on schedule. Retailers need to echo this nimbleness now and be at the forefront of technology in order to thrive into the future.
"The benefits of virtual reality are real. Retailers who have made the switch to Virtual Worlds 4D Theatre are regularly reporting conversion rates increasing by 50% and order values increasing by at least 20% – and these are just the immediate benefits. Those early-adopter retailers are well ahead of the curve, with years of content and designs they can showcase to consumers to help improve these figures.
"Sales are important, but let’s look at some of the other benefits. If I were to ask: ‘Would you prefer to put in a new physical display or a virtual display?’ and your answer was physical, I would be worried you were limiting not only the potential of your showroom, but also the level of choice you were offering your customers. A physical display immediately limits your audience in terms of taste and style, and will quickly date. Compare this to the limitless virtual display – via VR, retailers can show an infinite number of colours, finishes and designs. Technology turns your showroom into a KBB tardis – unrestricted by floor space – where the only real limit is your imagination.
"VR is fantastic for making the showroom a more interactive destination; it allows a merging of physical and digital, where consumers can benefit from a truly interactive design. It gives consumers a wow factor when they experience their new design in VR, but I truly believe in the future it will be impossible to sell kitchens and bathrooms any other way.
"In a few years’ time customers may well be able to put a headset on while sitting at home and completely design their new kitchen and bathroom with a designer in another physical location, maybe just visiting your showroom to feel the quality of the products ‘in the flesh’.
"We can’t predict the future, but it’s fair to say embracing VR will futureproof your business. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook may just have a point when he says: ‘I believe the metaverse is the next chapter for the internet’. In his eyes the future of staying connected to people is most definitely virtual. I think that can be said for the relationship between the KBB retailer and their customers too.
"It’s also feasible that in the future, the metaverse might be organised so KBB designers and retailers are in the same area competing for business, and if and when that happens the ability to stand out will be imperative. As HG Wells put it: ‘Adapt or perish’ – the world is changing, so don’t be a V12 Diesel in a world of Teslas."