Brands: Beware of using Virtual Reality as a novelty without purpose
It comes as no surprise that I hate going to Ikea. I would prefer (and in fact, I have tried) to get out of a moving car than visit the Ikea display store. The endless rabbit warren of paths squashed together with unhappy, shuffling couples having angrily whispered arguments about how they “just wanted to buy something nice for the house,” and shortcuts that somehow seem to take you back to the beginning again. I’m not saying that this isn’t an enjoyable weekend excursion for others, but considering Ikea has just launched a “virtual reality” (VR) shopping experience online, I can’t help but wonder who it’s for?
Is it for people like me who hate the physical store? Is it to let people who are shopping on their phones or computers to see it in context? In which case, how is it better than a simple photograph? If that’s the tone they are going for, then the plan they already have for putting that big Ikea catalogue online will probably suffice. It can be viewed on a smart phone or tablet and then purchased directly from, all without that hideous visit on a weekend morning you will never get back.
Testing the store out using the Matterport VR app and a Google cardboard, I found the navigation very unwieldy. No, it doesn’t respond to you physically moving and relies on a gaze point to navigate. Yes, it’s annoying to even get around the VR store. In terms of shopping, which I assume is a primary result they are hoping for, there’s no value to physically navigate the store online to find an item you want. It is good to see items displayed online but upon further thought, it’s actually not a great experience because you have to zoom about in an unintuitive way to see anything and to be honest, after 5 minutes, I felt a little sick — kind of like being in the store for real.
If Ikea’s intention is to “support the online shopping experience”, customers are not going to swap from their easy-to-navigate phone screen or computer to plug in their flashy VR headset to see it in context, especially with the clunky experience currently on offer. Furthermore, with the level of fidelity that you can get these days with VR, you can’t use it to easily shop yet so how does it enhance the actual shopping experience?
Beware of using Virtual Reality as a novelty without purpose
My verdict on the Ikea VR shopping offering is that it’s a novelty without purpose. I applaud Ikea for using this emerging technology but wish they had thought about the customer experience they wanted to create with much more care.
Furniture retail would be better served by allowing customers to use their own rooms and then let them place the furniture they’re interested in into their own personal context, delivered through an augmented reality (AR) experience. That would be serving a basic customer need, namely “how will this look when I get it home.” Fortunately, Ikea has an App arriving later this year (separate to the online platform) that does address customer needs this way. Why Ikea launched both is beyond me – the App (partnered with Apple) is useful by itself (based on what I know of it) and there is little point of both.
My prediction is that once other large retailers discover the Ikea app, they will want their own that uses AR in a similar way. This is most certainly the way that retail is heading.