Ten years ago, brands got away with selling their products with only a simple web page, some pictures, and a description. Today, shoppers have higher expectations. From same-day shipping to 360-degree product views to libraries of customer reviews, brands like Amazon and Zappos have redefined the digital customer experience not only for the B2C world, but the B2B realm as well.
When it comes to meeting buyers’ needs, augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) technology offers particular promise for elevating the buyer journey, especially when paired with CPQ tools. If customers have the ability to visualise products in their own spaces, and the ability to receive a quote and purchase on the spot, it moves the process along much faster than a traditional shopping experience, especially for complex items. Early signs of AR/VR’s influence are promising. Only one-third of consumers have used AR, but of those people, 73 percent reported the experience as satisfying or very satisfying. So, how are brands taking cues from this trend and how do you build it into your brand? How are brands using AR/VR for the buyer journey? Brands have embraced AR/VR specifically for physically large products with complex buyer journeys — like furniture for B2C or construction equipment for B2B. With these kinds of products, the buyer wants to see all options available to them, but a manufacturer or retailer can’t put every possible option on the showroom floor for the buyer to interact with. AR/VR can help the buyer see their options and customise the product to their liking — and brands are quickly catching on to this idea. In fact, 46 percent of retailers hope to embed AR in the buying process by the end of this year, according to Gartner. In the consumer space, the home furniture industry has capitalised on AR’s potential. Buying a piece of furniture requires an involved buying process. It’s intimidating to buy an expensive piece of merchandise that must fit perfectly in your space and meet your needs for years. Ikea, for example, offers an AR tool that allows the shopper to build a piece of furniture — from a sectional to a kitchen table — to their specifications and view it in a space with their own dimensions. La-Z-Boy has also launched a 3D AR/VR tool that includes a 360-degree product viewer and a 3D product configurator. With both of these features, consumers have the opportunity to develop a custom piece of furniture and buy it on the spot, after the retailer merges AR-powered configuration capabilities with a CPQ platform that allows the entire buying process to play out. AR/VR technology also holds promise in the B2B world — especially for the manufacturing industry. For example, a bulldozer is an extremely involved purchase for a construction firm. It’s a large and complex machine that must perform specific tasks in unique spaces. Interacting with a custom-configured bulldozer in an AR environment takes much of the legwork out of the decision-making process. How can you start using AR/VR? AR/VR’s potential for offering a stellar customer experience is clear. How can you start building it into your buying process? These tips will help you move forward in the implementation of this emerging tech. Educate your team about the possibilities of AR/VR. The first step to embracing AR and VR’s role in the buying process is to let your team know what’s possible for your brand. Many organisations, especially in the B2B manufacturing space, are accustomed to legacy sales and customisation tactics. By pointing to inspirational examples like IKEA’s room planner tool or Tuff Shed’s configurator, they’ll begin to envision what your organisation must accomplish to compete for the modern buyer. Embed the feature in your CPQ platform. AR/VR adds significant value to the configuration process, but if a customer can’t price and purchase the custom product that just came together before their eyes, what’s the point? Nailing down the configuration process with the help of AR/VR is great. However, don’t sell yourself short by segmenting that capability from the pricing and purchasing process. The customer should naturally progress through the entire flow of events, and a modern CPQ tool can unite those phases for you. Make sure the solution lets you make changes as you go. Launching an AR/VR-empowered configurator should be a nimble process. Implementing such a groundbreaking tool will undoubtedly garner customer feedback and critique. If the tool you select doesn’t allow you to tweak and change the process, it won’t be worth the effort. With this in mind, it’s important to team up with a platform provider for your AR-powered CPQ tool. If you build it from the ground up internally, you will likely miss the agility you can experience with a cloud-based provider. Linking up with a cloud-powered partner also ensures your customers can access the AR/VR configurator from anywhere in the world and still enjoy a stellar experience. Today’s buyers, whether purchasing a consumer or business product, have elevated expectations for the buying process. If brands can’t rise to the occasion, customers will take their business elsewhere for a better experience. But for the right product categories, AR/VR is a key element in beating the competition and satisfying customers’ high expectations. (Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)