At the very recent National Retail Federation (NRF) 2017 conference, Intel and Alibaba demonstrated the use of virtual reality (VR) to reinvent the customer experience.
VR was used during the last Singles Day to better engage with consumers. Potential customers can download an application into their phone and enter the VR world of retail. They enter a virtual store that is designed with aisles and products they can actually engage with, similar to an actual bricks-and-mortar store. The technology for VR retail is a major breakthrough for the fiercely competitive industry and provides big brands with a huge opportunity to take customer experience to the next level. For consumers, this new way of interacting with brands is mind-blowing – they can actually experience the nature of a store and products virtually, from the comfort of their own living room.
However, the real underlying value of this VR experience goes much deeper than the connection retailers are trying to make with consumers – it is the data that is derived from each and every trip to the virtual store. Think about all the information companies can gather by tracking and analysing every action, every move, every product that is viewed and considered. Companies will have the chance to understand each customer and make the right business decisions. All of this will ultimately have an impact on the supply chain.
What is a VR supply chain?
A virtual reality supply chain lets organisations to design and architect in 3D, evaluate designs and make critical decisions about new products and customer buying decisions. According to Industry Week, the value proposition of VR supply chains include:
• Increased immediate sales configurations and upselling opportunities;
• A 3D visual and high resolution 360-degree 3D rendering enable the customer a walkthrough experience prior to making buy decisions;
• A complete 3D visual of the parts list, components, quotes and pricing for the proposed design or purchase option;
• Full supply chain integration from design, manufacturing, supplier management, distribution, customer delivery and installation;
• Improved velocity, quality and simplification in the order fulfilment cycle;
• Realisation of significant revenue growth, profitability and a superior customer experience.
Manufacturers, retailers, and distributors are beginning to assimilate this technology into their daily business models with immediate and impressive results.
Case study: McDonald’s
McDonald’s UK branch has opened the gates to its food sources, utilising VR and a 360-degree video to take viewers through its food production processes. The Follow our Food-steps campaign looks to show the public a narrative behind its British and Irish process, from the farm fronts to processors and supplies, as the brand looks to drum up interest in the farming industry, one that it spends £900m per year on. One application Top of the Crop allows Oculus Rift users to try their hand behind the wheel of a tractor. Another takes viewers to the farms producing the brand’s dairy, egg and patty goods.
Case study: No Man’s Sky
While No Man’s Sky is just a game, the universe created is fascinating. The small team of programmers used artificial intelligence and procedural generation to self-create an entire galaxy with over 18 quintillion unique planets complete with their own geography, ecosystems, flora, fauna, and structures, for users to fully explore. The scope of the game has given some who have tried the demo a fuller appreciation of the size of the cosmos, and understandably a bit of existential angst.
The No Man’s Sky approach is also another possibility that the logistics industry could wherein VR would be used to give customers a fuller, more comprehensive appreciation of all the moving parts that are involved in a supply chain. Basically, granting customers the ability to literally visualise the supply chain.
Integrating VR into manufacturing operations
VR technology has many useful applications, from improved worker safety to increased efficiency from both a process and product design perspective.
Firstly, when it comes to predictive analytics, VR has created a fresh approach to this trusted technology. One of the downfalls of the world we live in is the uncertainty of outcomes, of what the future holds. This is where predictive analytics takes the stage. The ability to anticipate an outcome before it happens is extremely valuable, and VR technology is making this much easier and more accessible. Engineers are able to design better products while customers can see final products pre-production, ultimately saving everyone precious time and money.
Secondly, when talking about VR and its potential to increase efficiency, this not only applies to a physical product, but also to the associated manufacturing processes. By designing and simulating production lines virtually, a production manager can identify bottlenecks, maximise efficiencies and reduce total waste before any physical work begins. As far as products go, VR simulation allows engineers to identify potential material weak spots or air flow issues in the early design stages when tweaks are simpler and less costly.
Safety is another key area where VR has the power to make waves. Simulating various production processes and assembly line configurations allows a user to identify potentially hazardous maneuvers and fine-tune workflows pre-production. Automotive giant Ford, a company leading the way in VR integration, has successfully reduced employee injuries by 70 per cent, according to TestDrivenTV.
As VR devices become more affordable and, thus, more accessible, gamers are not the only group looking for ways to get the most out of this incredible technology. Although adoption in the business world remains very low, interest is spiking as companies realise VR’s true potential.