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Virtual Reality (VR)

A break from reality: Is VR really going to be the next big thing?

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By Dom Burch, managing director

December 3, 2015 | 5 min read

It would appear I struck a chord yesterday by saying what many marketers were thinking when it comes to Snapchat. So here's one for you, is virtual reality really the next big thing?

Hot Pockets' ad tackled how VR would work in real life

According to Digi Capital augmented and virtual reality are about to explode as VCs and corporates get in on the act. Facebook’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Oculus got everyone’s attention early last year, but it’s only really in the last 12 months that investments have accelerated, with more than $1bn pouring into the sector.

Meanwhile Mashable reports Nokia's virtual reality camera is now available for pre-order for a cool $60,000. You heard me right, sixty thousand big ones. And Techno Buffalo says industry analyst firm Superdata reckons about 70 million headsets will be delivering VR content to consumers by the end of 2017.

OK, the numbers are big, but what are the actual uses outside of playing more immersive video games in your bedroom?

The Wall Street Journal reports charities are using virtual reality to draw in donors. VR technology gives people attending large fundraising galas and events an up-close look at the organisation's work in far flung places like remote African villages.

Star Wars is also dipping its toe into the virtual reality water with 'Jakku Spy', created in parallel with The Force Awakens. As Techcrunch explains the premise is you’re in the desert world, Jakku, and you’re a Resistance secret agent. It's a 360-degree immersive virtual reality.

OK, OK. Fundraising. Yes. Blockbuster films. Yes. What else? How about shopping?

Last week Wired Retail held its annual exploration of the ever-changing world of commerce, featuring leading technologists, entrepreneurs and creatives. They explored innovation in sectors as diverse as robotics, virtual reality and the future of home delivery.

According to Henry Stuart from VR production company Visualise virtual reality will enable, customised, shopping experiences for everyone. Stuart told the audience that customers would be able to see customised VR shops and product ranges, try items on and shop socially all while wearing a virtual reality headset.

I don't doubt the technology, but I'm not sure it passes the WODI test - a sophisticated algorithm developed over many years by a collaboration of world renowned retail gurus. Actually it's not, it simply means, would I do it? That's the killer test. Would I choose to shop from an endless aisle whilst sat on the sofa cut off from the real world, or more importantly would my wife?

Picture the scene. It's 9.15pm and The Apprentice is on, albeit currently paused as the mother-in-law has called. Becky, my wife, has her laptop open on a shopping site and is researching Christmas gifts. She also has her mobile on her lap and is taking texts from a fellow school mum about her kids having tea at ours on Friday. Our six-year-old is half way down the stairs complaining she can't get to sleep.

This is a conversation we are not then having, 'Love, pass me the VR set so I can virtually try on some clothes.'

I live to be proven wrong, but I do wonder sometimes whether the use cases technology firms create are just one step too far from reality. VR will be big. How big is yet to be determined. But let's not fall into the trap of 3D TVs or augmented reality and assume just because you can, you should.

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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