Nathan MacLean, managing director of CAD software design firm Virtual Worlds, has called on the KBB industry to have “vision and confidence” when thinking about the future of their business in the face of relentless online competition.
As new research emerges showing that shoppers overwhelmingly want high-street dealers to offer more digital innovation in their service offering, MacLean told kbbreview: “While some may consider it a risk to give up space in their showroom for a new concept like immersive virtual reality, I believe in the future, we will be looking back and talking about how crazy it was to expect people to buy kitchens and bathrooms the way we do now.”
This is in reference to the fact that customers typically cannot actually see how the new products look in situ – a huge risk in fact for such an important and expensive investment.
Virtual Worlds’ 4D Theatre experience gives a potential buyer the opportunity to experience the products in virtual reality as they would be in their own kitchen or bathroom but in the showroom of a store.
“They can walk around or sit down, change the tiles and other items from a database of manufactures and see the room in day or night mode,” said MacLean.
“So, not only does a potential buyer have access to a far greater display than any showroom could offer but the experience is personalised, which no traditional retailer can physically offer.”
The 4D Theatre experience, which gives customers a true-to-life working simulation of their new room, takes up 3 sq m of showroom space.
MacLean added: “What the high street currently lacks is the vision and confidence to make the changes it needs to survive.
“Investment is required to make the high street a destination worth travelling to; a place people go to stimulate their senses and be inspired; a place that brings people together with a sense of community and where the shops complement each other to give the visitor everything they require in one visit. The high street needs to promote its advantage over the internet, and that includes its people, advice and customer service.”
MacLean said Virtual Worlds was investing in technology to give kitchen and bathroom retailers a competitive edge.
His comments come after a survey of 3,500 online shoppers in the US and UK by global ecommerce consultancy Salmon, part of the Wunderman Commerce group, revealed that 72% of consumers are more likely to shop with bricks-and-mortar retailers that are digitally innovative – up from 60% in 2017.
But many retailers are letting down their customers by failing to meet their growing expectations.
In the UK, 54% of those surveyed said that they feel more digitally advanced than some of the retailers and commerce services they use, while in the US, this number jumps to 76%.
The report highlighted how technology is driving changes in how people shop, with voice activation gaining ground as well as direct buying through social media.
The report said: “Thankfully for retailers, new technology doesn’t scare the consumer – on the contrary, shoppers seem to welcome a change from the traditional shop floor.
“For example, 65% of respondents told us they are more likely to buy from a store like Amazon Go where facial recognition and other technologies have replaced the cashier.
“Clearly, people are happy to move away from the typical retail environment, towards something new.”
Information technology firm Fujitsu said the survey is a “mandate for transformation” for traditional retail.
“The way forward is highlighted by the growing consumer appetite for a technologically augmented shopping experience,” said Jat Sahi, digital lead for retail at Fujitsu.
“This is a huge opportunity for retailers to tap into the two key drivers of 21st century retail spending, convenience and experience. For example, connecting the consumer journey across mobile, desktop, and in-store can offer new ways to make shopping more seamless, while technology such as augmented reality can create a more immersive browsing experience.”
The Government announced this week that it has appointed a panel of retail experts, led by Sir John Timpson, to assess the problems on the high street and make “practical recommendations” to turnaround its seemingly terminal decline.