With VR, seeing is believing

From automobiles to real estate, VR helps marketers show consumers what they’re buying

Joseph Knoop
21 November 2016

3 min read

For decades, buying something that doesn’t exist yet – a car configured to your precise specifications or a pre-construction apartment, for example – required consumers to make a major leap of faith. With immersive virtual reality techniques, however, marketers are removing the fear factor and improving customer satisfaction.

For many consumers, choosing the options for an automobile or the components for a new kitchen is a daunting task. No matter how many fabric swatches or color charts they study, it’s impossible to know how their choices will “feel” until the product is delivered – when changes are expensive or impossible.

With the arrival of consumer-friendly virtual reality (VR), however, marketing complex products just got easier – even if the products don’t yet exist.

“A 2D catalog or configuring a flat image on the web is not enough to decide whether to buy or not to buy,” said Hervé Fontaine, vice president of B2B (business to business) virtual reality at HTC Vive, which makes head-mounted displays (HMDs) for VR. “Once we get to incorporate an experience with VR, common sense says that more people will be ready to buy because they will trust more in what they see.”


The Audi VR Experience, for example, uses a Vive to transform its 3D car models into immersive experiences. While immersed, consumers choose from 70 options, plus colors and fabrics – 1,000 combinations in all – to arrive at their perfect automobile. A virtual walk around the finished car allows shoppers to lift the hood and check the engine or crouch down to view the undercarriage.

GMC is combining the power of iV and social media to market its vehicles and its brand. To celebrate the launch of the all-new 2017 GMC Acadia, for example, GMC created an immersive video for its Facebook page that enables consumers to experience the Acadia’s interior. The video can be viewed through a smartphone as a 360° video, with the consumer in full control of which direction they look and what features they focus on, or viewed through a head-mounted display as a fully immersive virtual reality experience. In addition to showing the vehicle’s interior features, the experience allows consumers to see the car in different physical settings and at different times of day, including virtually experiencing how the interior controls automatically illuminate at night.

“The customer wants to be confident that their experience is accurate,” said David Nahon, director of Immersive Virtuality at 3DEXPERIENCE Lab at Dassault Systèmes (publisher of Compass). “When you’re buying a car and configuring all the options, you won’t find that exact combination on the lot. They might show you all the options on separate cars, but you have to assemble that information in your brain. Bridging everything together with VR will give you an accurate, emotional experience with what you’re buying.”


Residential real estate is difficult to sell, in part, due to limited accessibility. Resort properties, for example, can’t be toured during peak rental seasons. Buyers who are relocating may only have a weekend to visit properties. Pre-construction developments can’t be visited at all – unless the builder offers tours in VR.

Altarea Cogedim, a commercial and residential real estate developer based in France with operations in Spain and Italy, is one such builder. Until recently, Cogedim showed prospects physical blueprints and artist’s conceptions to help them envision pre-construction properties. Now Cogedim is replacing those tools with VR.

“The customer just has to choose the floorplan, put the headset on, and he can visit every room, check the space for the beds or see if there is room to put the sofas,” said Thomas Penet, director of Marketing for Cogedim. “We expect VR to become more mainstream in the next 12 months, so we are preparing ourselves to be ready for customer demands.”

Using a combination of VR headsets, eye tracking solutions and a CAVE, Silab helps retailers and product manufacturers predict how consumers will react to store designs and in-store displays. (Image © Silab/Kalista)


VR also is being used for marketing behind the scenes of retail store design. The goal: make it easier and more enjoyable for consumers to shop for products in smaller stores located in city centers, which increases retailer and brand loyalty and sales.

At the Shopping Innovation Lab (SILAB) in northern France, for example, retailers and manufacturers conceptualize shopping experiences, from the design of entire stores to the position of a particular item on the shelf. The lab is available to any retailer or product maker for a fee, reducing the cost of accessing the latest immersive technologies.

“We typically address how products are offered, how the store is organized and the consumer journey through a store, and this is much faster and less expensive to do in a virtual environment,” said Jean-Michel Flamant, SILAB’s director of development. “Previously, we tested store designs with physical mockups. If we discovered a layout wasn’t working, we’d have to start from scratch and build again.”

In addition to helping retailers design stores, SILAB helps makers of consumer product goods identify the perfect shelf placement for their products.

“Immersive 3D is an excellent communication tool,” Flamant said. “We test five merchandising options to work out which is the most effective. They help brands to convince distributors more easily about new product settings.”

Experience a 360-degree view inside the GMC Acadia

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