Last weekend Sixense, creator of the STEM controller, came for a visit to digital agency SapientNitro’s NYC office. Armed with VR headsets and STEM controllers, the order of business was to demonstrate the marketing potential of virtual reality technology to clients from SapientNitro’s impressive roster.
With major brand work under their belt from the likes of Activision, Audio, Fiat, Unilever, and others, SapientNitro has the ears of powerful companies, all of which are looking for the next big thing to drive brand engagement. That next big thing, SapientNitro believes, is virtual reality.
Sixense showed off their early Unity-based ‘vRetail’ prototype back during CES, but they brought the newer and shinier UE4 version with them to NYC to show some of SapientNitro’s clients what VR could mean for marketing.
The vRetail experience puts the player in a virtual shopping space. For now, the company is showing what it might be like to shop for shoes, but it’s easy to see how the system could scale to any number of products or experiences, including the ability to have multiplayer environments where users could shop together. Sixense calls this ‘vCommerce’.
Once the headset is on, players pick up the STEM controllers to allow natural interaction within the space. Sixense has designed a very intuitive experience which allows users to tap easily on virtual touchscreens to select which category of product they’d like to see. In the case of shoe shopping, a huge shelf of shoes appears before the user—but this shelf is not like one you’ve seen before—if you reach out to grab it, you can ‘scroll’ the shelf, infinitely, in any direction. This means you can browse through hundreds of shoes without walking up and down aisles; removing physical design limitations is what VR is all about.
The whole thing is impressively intuitive, thanks in no small part to the STEM controller. Reach out to grab a shoe that catches your eye, let it go in mid air to have it float in front of you with a menu to change color and get more info on the product, turn around and put it on a mannequin to see what it would look like on the foot—and it’s all as easy as reaching out your hand out to grab and tap.
SapientNitro Believes that Virtual Reality is the Way Forward for Brand Engagement
While SapientNitro is still exploring this technology, Valerie Carlson, Executive Creative Director at the company’s LA branch, believes that the agency will deploy a virtual reality marketing experience within the year.
“…what we expect very clearly to do is to work with one retail client this year and put a [VR] prototype of some kind into market,” she told me.
When I asked Carlson where the customer might have these virtual reality brand experiences—whether it be in the home or in-store—she said we’d likely see a combination, starting with in-store experiences first.
“I think eventually we’ll see people owning their own headsets but I think the test-and-learn opportunities in many cases will be in-store. So just in the way that you might interact with a kiosk today in a Home Depot—why not test-and-learn with VR,” she said. “At holiday for instance, you have a lot of families coming and shopping for different items in different places, giving them the opportunity to try VR and experience brands in totally unusual ways I think is a great opportunity for retailers.”
And just as the internet has not eliminated physical shopping stores, Carlson believes that virtual reality will support existing retail channels—a bridge between the web and brick and mortar—not a replacement.
“…we don’t expect virtual reality commerce to supplant all of the other channels that exist today; we expect it to be a complementary channel. So as brands test-and-learn in retail with VR, we expect them to have new learnings that will help them merchandize and will help them develop other experiences in other channels.
SapientNitro didn’t reveal which of their clients had come to see the vCommerce demonstration, but I did see plenty of excited faces popping out of headsets at the end of the experience.