Virtual retail

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Using an iPhone app, scanning this Chaparral augmented reality print advertisement makes a boat pop up that customers can customize.

Using an iPhone app, scanning this Chaparral augmented reality print advertisement makes a boat pop up that customers can customize.

Amazon Prime has changed the way Americans shop, with two-day deliveries that can get products to homes much easier than than running to the store, given the crammed schedules that many people keep.

As Americans lives get busier — 64 percent say they are busier today than they were two years ago, according to Nielsen Global Connect — customers will come to expect opportunities to try products from the comfort of home.

“Augmented and virtual reality technology will transform brand engagement,” wrote John Tavolieri, chief product and technology officer for Nielsen, in a recent article.

“It is clearly a disruptor,” Tavolieri said. “Companies will have the tools to virtually replicate the physical instances of shopping while also eliminating many of the obstacles. This will enable them to reach out to consumers where they are, with informative, personalized and compelling experiences.”

Industries such as auto and marine largely maintain that customers will always want to see and feel products before deciding to buy. While that’s true on some level, a trend dubbed “virtual retail” will eventually allow buyers to configure a boat, perhaps walk through it, before speaking with a dealer.

Chaparral offers an augmented reality app that complements its print advertisements. When a smartphone is pointed at the image, the user can change the boat’s color and layout, said Ryan Swaims, marketing director for Chaparral and Robalo.

“We’ve tested the waters on how customers might use it,” Swaims told Trade Only Today. “We run it with our printed magazine ad, so when those things are combined, the boat advertised will actually pop out of the page. The customer can change the color of it and really have fun around it.”

A color pallet allows customers to change the boat’s gelcoat.

A color pallet allows customers to change the boat’s gelcoat.

That allows a more interactive shopping experience, which something customers increasingly seek, said Swaims.

“People can customize the boat in their house,” said Swaims. “They can take it out and show it to friends. They can share it from their phones. It’s a very Instagrammable experience. At the same time, it’s getting product knowledge out. They can see colors, options, layouts — it’s almost like they have their own boat.”

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the boat will be rendered in actual size, and customers will be able to perform a virtual walkthrough.

“It is shopping a different way,” said Swaims. “If you’re searching for a shirt online, it’s just flat. If you can download an app, take a picture of yourself and see yourself in that shirt, you have more of a sense if you’ll like it. The idea is letting the customer experience a product as if he’s in the store. Unfortunately, the days of brick-and-mortar retail are changing, but people still want to shop. It’s our job to find a way to still put our products in customers’ hands.”

Augmented reality experiences won’t be limited to assessing products from home, according to Nielsen. Retailers can use the technology to help customers understand products in stores, meaning there might be fewer products in showrooms.

“In stores, A/VR technology — like navigation apps or electronic shelf beacons — will change conventional shopping dynamics by providing ramped up retail experiences that blur the physical and digital environments,” Tavolieri said.

Chaparral and Robalo developed a virtual reality system called Driver three years ago to help foster an immersive and interactive experience boat shows and even on Capitol Hill, said Swaims.

Members of Congress and their staff tried out Chaparral’s virtual reality app.

Members of Congress and their staff tried out Chaparral’s virtual reality app.

“We found that’s a big driver at shows,” said Swaims. “It’s a big draw because it’s relatively new to the boating industry, though it’s common in auto.”

Members of Congress and their staffs were excited about trying Chaparral’s virtual reality system during a summit to help lawmakers understand the industry and the challenges around it.

“It was easy and fun, and people went away remembering Chaparral Boats,” said Swaims. “They had a good feeling about the brand and the industry.”

It takes time and tinkering to create a seamless user experience with emerging technology. “It’s trial and error,” said Swaims. “The virtual reality wasn’t a hit out of the box because it was difficult for people to use.”

Now the user experience is more seamless. “Once you move from gimmick to usefulness, that’s where we’re all going to win using this kind of technology,” said Swaims.

Companies should invest in this type of technology and start trying it while it’s relatively young because soon it will be as ubiquitous as YouTube, said Swaims.

“Experiment — don’t be afraid to try,” said Swaims. “The upfront investment not going to be that much. Try something, because if you don’t, you’re going to get left behind. It’s better to try now and fail, then learn from it so you can do it well when it’s the mainstream.”

Once customers get used to technology, they expect it. “Very soon, it’s going to be the expectation,” said Swaims. “That next generation is growing up with it. The boat companies that don’t offer the opportunity to try it will be left behind.”

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