Imagine that you’d like to hire someone to perform a major remodel to your kitchen. You visit a Home Depot where a designer listens to your ideas. You bring along a few pictures of your current kitchen which she scans. And then you select new appliances, counters, lighting, table and seating arrangements. Within a few minutes, the Home Depot employee hands you a pair of glasses which enable you to walk around a VR version of your new kitchen. You’re even able to manipulate items inside the world to your liking. You know exactly what you’re getting before you begin.
This scenario isn’t science fiction. It’s a good example how a business like Home Depot can take advantage of VR technologies to expand sales. And it’s close to becoming a reality. Lowes is rolling out HoloRoom which they describe as “Tools to help customers intuitively envision the home of their dreams” and it works just like the scenario I described.
This week I’d like to take a look at how businesses might benefit from virtual reality.
*One note: I often see VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) lumped together. They have some similarities, but for this week, I’m focused on VR. We’ll take a look at AR in a future article.
Being able to hire the best candidates is critical for every business. The hiring process today is cumbersome, time consuming and expensive. HR’s job is to present the most qualified applicant to the hiring manager, but this can be hit or miss if the applicant isn’t local. A lot of small companies don’t have the resources to cover travel and hotel accommodations, so they limit their pool of potential employees to the local area. This might work if you’re in San Francisco or Seattle. But what if you’re trying to hire an experienced programmer in southern Utah or Nevada?
I believe HR will embrace virtual reality because it will allow them to perform “face-to-face” interviews in a virtual conference room with the applicant. VR will allow the interviewer to see how a candidate responds to questions through their body language and other nonverbal cues.
Hiring might seem like a mundane use for VR. It’s not as exciting as some of the other uses we’ll get to, but it’s important nonetheless. Giving companies located in remote areas a way in which to expand their interview capabilities is a very big deal. Expect companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft to jump on the boat first, but many others will follow when the price comes down.
Travel with VR
This is a broad area with many opportunities for VR. I see a lot of opportunities for making personal connections. My mother has had four strokes and is unable to travel far from her home. She’d love to travel to the beach of her choice or visit with her grandkids who live out-of-state using VR. Her surroundings don’t change often, but VR would allow her to feel like she’s experiences other parts of the world without having to leave her home.
I also see VR changing how people attend conventions and trade shows. I enjoy attending CES each year, but the crowds and huge venues make the experience less than ideal. Many attendees would pay to virtually browse through the exhibit hall from their homes. Employees could travel to events and training no matter the location using VR. I can imagine this will be one of the largest and most lucrative applications for the technology.
We’ve already seen movie studios use VR to generate excitement about films ranging from Jurassic World to the Avengers. But as costs come down you can expect more brands to use VR to engage with their customers and help create brand awareness. When I attended CES, I listened to a businessman who was helping universities use VR to make their campuses more accessible to potential applicants. Applicants could put on a Vive headset and walk around a virtual campus. You can also see how coaches could use this to recruit athletes as well.
The applications for VR in marketing at limitless. Brands that value customer engagement and feedback will jump on the technology, and then others will follow. I recently saw VR being used to sell condominiums in my town before they were built. The message to potential buyers was clear: “We show you exactly how your home will look before you put down a deposit.” Potential buyers were also able to take a virtual tour of the nearby golf course. Can you imagine a competing against this builder without these tools at your disposal?
Training and Education
Every successful company invests in the training and education of their employees and partners. When I ran the partner program for Microsoft Project, we spent a lot of money and time putting together training sessions for our partners. Of course, not all of them could take a week off and travel to Redmond, Washington. There’s no question that business owners will use VR to reach out to their partners and most valued customers to train them, teach them and market to them.
I imagine companies might be willing to release more complex products if they are able to mix training into their messaging. It’s expensive to release a new product nobody has seen before if it requires a lot of education. VR will allow companies to take more risks and release more products that would otherwise require too high an investment in training.
VR is already here, but we haven’t seen anything yet. VR still requires powerful hardware to project a quality frame rate, but that changing. What requires a powerful computer with high-end GPU today will be available on a portable device very soon. Wireless and Bluetooth will help make for a less cluttered experience. I’ll go out on a limb and say VR will arrive for the masses when Apple releases the iPhone 8 to consumers next fall. Apple’s been aggressively buying up the technology to make this happen on a scale current products can’t touch.
I could be wrong, and another company like Microsoft, Sony or Samsung could usher in mainstream VR with a product we’ve not seen. None of them have the reach of the iPhone though. But one thing is certain: VR is going to change how businesses operate. Not every business needs to embrace the technology right out of the gate. But it would be foolish to ignore it.