Consumer Experience with Immersive Technologies

Thanks to augmented, mixed and virtual reality, consumers are changing the ways in which they shop, and interact with brands. Customer’s expectations are increasing, and they are demanding more interactive shopping experiences.

Dr Ana Javornik, Lecturer in Marketing at Newcastle University Business School, whose research focuses on consumer behaviour and immersive technologies coordinated the event in which a panel of immersive technology experts were invited to discuss how immersive technology is changing the consumer experience in retail, fashion and beyond. The event was organised for International Marketing MSc students, but was also open to other students and staff.

The Panel:

  • Karinna Nobbs (Digital Futurist – Holition, Adjunct Professor – ESCP Europe)
  • Shaun Allan (Chief XR officer – hedgehog lab)
  • Dr Kat Duffy (Lecturer in Marketing – Adam Smith Business School)
  • Alex Cook (Innovation lead at PROTO – Emerging technology Centre)
From left to right: Shaun Allan, Karinna Nobbs, Dr Ana Javornik, Dr Kat Duffy, Alex Cook.  Photos by Mark Walters.

First up was keynote speaker – Karinna Nobbs, who described immersive technology as something which “blurs the line between physical and digital”. Following on from this were Shaun and Alex, who explained how the companies they worked for were using immersive technology, as well as Kat Duffy, who gave an academic perspective on how the technology could be used as a marketer.

Why Immersive Technology?

Karinna explained that in retail, the ‘third space’ is where consumers spend their luxury time, and in a time where e-commerce is on the rise, the ‘third space’ is essential for brick and mortar shops to gain back their customers. Focusing on experience, this ‘third space’ encourages consumers to spend longer time in their stores. An example of this would be Tiffany & Co. who have established a ‘breakfast at Tiffany’s’ café area to appear as though consumers are sitting inside one of their famous blue boxes.

Immersive technology bridges the imagination gap, which in retail and fashion, is both useful and exciting for consumers. Being able to see what an item of clothing, or makeup would look like on themselves encourages consumers to purchase the item as a direct result of using the technology.

Karinna Nobbs. Photos by Mark Walters.

Difficulties

Whilst immersive technology brings in a huge amount of money for companies, one of the difficulties is the cost of implementing this technology into retail spaces, both physically and online. To be able to see whether using AR/VR is cost effective, new KPI (Key Performance Indicators) measurements will need to be put in place, such as the experience per sq. ft.

Karinna Nobbs, who works as a digital futurist in this industry, explained that one of the difficulties for the future of immersive technology is that those who are using it, are keeping their ideas and successes a secret, in order to have an advantage over competitors.

Future

The future of immersive technology will see an increase in the social aspect, such as live broadcasts. Some retailers have already begun to use this, for example Topshop with their Virtual Reality Catwalk which took place in 2014. XR (which embodies all types of realities) will continue to be consumer driven, One thing which was made apparent in the talk was that in the future, immersive technology will not be activated by buttons, but rather will act as a layer around the physical world.

 

Photos by Mark Walters

Next up was Shaun Allan, who gave students an insight into how Hedgehog Lab was using immersive technology up here in the North East. He spoke of a campaign aiming to discourage drink and drug driving. Using this technology, they were able to give consumers the experience of drunk driving, by dropping the frame rate – which is what causes feelings of nausea in virtual reality.

Shaun explaining the drink driving campaign. Photos by Mark Walters

The talk was extremely useful for marketing students looking to enter the industry in the future. They learnt from Dr Kat Duffy about the importance of an omnichannel experience rather than treating immersive technology as being purely channel focused. When asked whether XR was a medium, a device, and app, or branded content, it became clear that it was all of those things, and coming up with a marketing strategy that recognised this, was key to its success. One thing that was reiterated throughout the session was that to be successful, the technology must serve a purpose, it must be useful to the consumer and not simply a gimmick.

Dr Kat Duffy. Photos by Mark Walters.

The final presentation was given by Alex Cook, Innovation lead at PROTO who’s overarching view of immersive technology was that “seeing is believing”. This technology has the potential to bring a company’s brand values to life, and allows people to experience something they would otherwise never be able to do. North Face are a great example of this, with their virtual reality campaign allowing consumers to experience climbing Mount Everest.

Alex Cook. Photos by Mark Walters.

The talks were followed by a panel discussion between the experts and students in which it became clear that immersive technology is still developing, and will only get better. Whilst the future of XR is not exactly clear, it is definitely an exciting time for marketers and consumers alike.

The panelists answer students’ questions during the panel discussion. Photos by Mark Walters
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