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Comment: Why virtual reality is more than just a footfall driver

A Westfield shopping mall, Steven Spielberg and a virtual reality start-up aren’t the likeliest of bedfellows, but they offer a good example of the type of collaborative project the retail industry is going to need more of.

Alien Zoo, Dreamscape Immersive


Westfield and Spielberg are both investors in Dreamscape Immersive, a virtual reality (VR) start-up that is developing multiplexes where each room offers a different narrative VR experience. Its first pop-up opened in February in Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles, with a 13-minute ‘Alien Zoo’ experience inviting visitors to walk on to a spacecraft, select an avatar, and interact with aliens.

The extent to which VR will change the way stories are told is still relatively unknown, especially as innovations such as haptic technology, which tracks your movements and allows a game or movie to respond around you, develop.

Everyone from Ikea to Topshop is experimenting with VR technology to create a buzz and drive footfall in store, but the Dreamscape Immersive initiative feels heftier than most because of the number of stakeholders involved and their range of expertise. Dreamscape itself is in part run by co-chairman Walter Parkes, who helped found DreamWorks Entertainment, and its chief executive is Bruce Vaughn, who was most recently chief creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.

The evolution of storytelling is another area that should be investigated

The relevance of Spielberg’s investment is obvious, but the project has significance for brands beyond VR’s potential as a source of entertainment and driver of footfall. The evolution of storytelling is another area that should be investigated. The stories brands tell consumers through the content they produce, and the emotions it generates, engender a response and nurture what remaining loyalty there is among over-stimulated, hyper-busy consumers.

The aim for any fashion retailer operating today is to create a world that shoppers want to be part of – for strong examples in 2018, look to Missguided’s online proposition, Selfridges’ constant stream of creative pop-ups, and Topshop’s Oxford Circus store, which only ever seems to get buzzier. VR holds the potential to take this brand creativity and storytelling up a notch.

In as a little as five years – or even less – the technology could develop to allow shopping in a VR environment. A home headset could enable a shopper to see clothes on a VR avatar that is created according to her measurements; she might be able to touch and feel clothes, assess the fit and feel the item similar to an in-store experience. A virtual environment could be both brand-led and populated according to a shopper’s preferences.

In as little as five years the technology could develop to allow shopping in a VR environment

Dreamscape’s multiplexes will take entertainment up a notch in a way that reflects what consumers increasingly look for, and which retail stores must seek to emulate. Retailers are increasingly using VR as a marketing tool, but the Westfield example shows the importance of using the technology creatively to emotionally connect with consumers. Retailers that take the opportunity – especially at this early stage – to investigate VR as a means of using storytelling will deepen a consumer’s connection with the brand.

Speakers at the Drapers Digital Festival will be discussing VR and other industry-changing trends - tickets for the event, held at The Brewery, London, on April 26th, can be purchased here

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