Virtual reality is not just for big brands. Here’s how small businesses can get in on this rising trend.

2017 is being touted by outlets including Tech Republic as the biggest year yet for Virtual and Augmented Reality when it comes to business.

While many major brands are launching extravagant experiences to much fanfare, being a smaller player doesn’t mean missing out on leveraging this technology.

According to recent research from Telsyte, 75 per cent of SMEs surveyed see a use for virtual reality. What’s more, 71 per cent of business owners surveyed say they are already using or planning to use the technology.

With Australia on track to have a VR device in 20 per cent of households by 2020, it makes sense for small business to start thinking about how they can use the technology now.

The following are examples of how different small businesses can get in on the trend:

Real estate and construction

Great marketing is one of the most important elements of selling houses. Many agents find themselves pitching to overseas investors or working with buyers’ agents who are shopping on their clients’ behalf.

Time-poor or distant home buyers aren’t always able to make an open home in person. A virtual reality tour can help solve this problem, allowing buyers to do a walk through without having to travel to the exact address. You don’t necessarily need a fancy headset to experience what’s being called a ‘virtual walkthrough’, as some companies are already demonstrating.

Virtual reality can also open doors wide for property developers, architects and renovation companies. Instead of hand-drawn plans, businesses can present 3D mock ups, switching out finishings and colour schemes to make the planning process more interactive.  

Hospitality

Customers can potentially inspect a restaurant or hotel, the same way they would with real estate, using 360 degree photography and VR technology.

In their example, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Hotel in Cancun has added a video commentary to 360 degree tours of the lobby, restaurant, function centre and King Suite entice customers to visit. The tours are available for both desktop and VR headsets via website youvisit.com.

Taking the customer experience a step further, it is possible for those in the hospitality industry to add a ‘book now’ button to the VR content. This allows shoppers to reserve their favourite room or table after checking it out from all angles.

VR is also fun for pre-dinner entertainment, as demonstrated by Belgian company Skullmapping, which turn tables into TV screens as you can see in this cute VR video.

Ibiza restaurant Sublimotion offers a more high tech experience, transporting customers to the ocean floor and having them feel as though they are dining on a moving train thanks to VR technology. 

Retail

Stroll through a store and pick up items to check the fabric, size and price - from your living room. See something you like? Just tap ‘click to buy’ and it will be on its way.

Retailers are already grasping the possibilities of virtual reality and experimenting with ways to implement it. For example fashion brands, TopShop and Uniqlo have shared experiences allowing customers to see what a garment looks like on, without actually having to try it on.

Online marketplace Alibaba has unveiled Buy+ the world’s first VR shopping store. UK retailer Tesco even launched a ‘cushion visualiser’ app, that lets customers try different soft furnishing combinations at home.

For B2B retailers, using a combination of VR and augmented reality can help sales teams to make visualising results easier for their clients. Coca-Cola is an example of a larger company doing this. By using an app to simulate fridge configurations, they are making it easier for customers to make decisions.  

VR for your business: how to get started

Using virtual reality technology may be more straightforward than you think. Many companies are springing up around Australia offering 360 degree photography and video services.

These agencies are able to advise small business on how to work within their budget to create content and experiences that draw in customers.

In terms of VR headsets, while these aren’t something people carry around with them like smartphones, you can invest a small amount in Google Cardboard, which transforms a smartphone into a VR viewer for less than $30.

Some businesses may choose to spend more on high tech models such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive to share in store with customers.

The encouraging aspect of virtual reality is that this new space is full of potential for creative ideas to be implemented and shared as a new way of engaging with customers.  

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