Virtual reality technology is revolutionizing the online shopping experience by allowing consumers to directly visualize themselves in merchandise through virtual fitting rooms (VFR). While some retailers are rejoicing at the new tech, others are concerned VFRs will decrease sales and purchase intent as consumers may be less likely to buy merchandise after seeing themselves in VFR than seeing the model photos. According to recent research by Guiyang Xiong, assistant professor of marketing at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, and Shuai Yang, an associate professor at Donghua University, retailers can mitigate this issue, bolster sales and increase purchase intent by shifting away from using traditional tactics of the past, such as 2D imagery promotional images, in virtual spaces and fully embracing the immersive nature of virtual reality. This study is among the first to provide explicit guidelines regarding how to effectively deliver VFR.
“Our findings help researchers and practitioners better understand the profit prospects of VFR and provide novel insights regarding how to configure and deliver VFR to maximize business performances,” said Xiong.
In an effort to examine the causal effect of the launch of VFRs on online apparel retailers’ sales, post-sales customer satisfaction and product return rate, researchers, Xiong and Yang, conducted two large-scale field experiments to test the causal effects of different VFR designs and a lab experiment to unveil the underlying theoretical mechanisms. They found that although VFR can have a sizeable positive influence on sales, VFR when used improperly can be counterproductive to the goals of retailers, explained Xiong.
“Our results show that the effect of VFR on sales varies significantly depending on the types of avatars and the retailer’s promotional strategy,” said Xiong.
Xiong noted that personalized versus non-personalized avatars may have different effects on consumer purchasing. Whether the VFR is deployed in isolation of or in combination with conventional visual displays, such as 2D promotional photos, may also have an effect on consumer purchasing.
“Specifically, personalized VFR may not increase sales if used in combination with conventional product visualizations because self-discrepancy becomes salient under this condition,” said Xiong.
In the past, retailers have heavily relied on appealing product visualizations to stimulate purchases, such as photos of attractive figures or ideal looks. These images within a VFR can cause consumers to compare themselves to internalized standards which can offset virtual reality immersion.
When VFRs are used correctly, without conventional product visualizations, Xiong and his fellow researcher found that VFRs can positively impact sales and post-sales outcomes such as customer satisfaction and product return rate.
“Therefore, managers should prioritize and weigh their business goals when deciding whether to deploy VFR in isolation or along with other promotional component and technology on their website or mobile app,” said Xiong.
The research is forthcoming in the Journal of Management Information Systems.
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