Incontext Solutions Helps Businesses With VR
Virtual reality (VR) is becoming one of the most buzzed about topics in 2016, if not the most buzzed about topic. Most of the applications that are being talked about have to do with consumers or the entertainment industry. Oculus just started shipping its Oculus Rift headset, HTC Vive just started shipping their headset, PlayStation VR is coming out in October and as you may or may not know, there have been several smartphone to VR types of headsets for the past few years.
Incontext Solutions is a company based in Chicago, that’s developing VR experiences that are based around business. The goal of the company is to help create solutions with virtual reality that enable clothing stores, grocery shops and more to enhance their customer’s experience.
The company was founded in 2009 and its initial focus was on streaming virtual reality content on the internet. The platform they created was made for internet based virtual reality, but is also able to work with current hardware as well as hardware that will be released later on.
They built a SaaS business model that enables them to gather information from their customers, work with their customers and measure the return on investment. Basically they’re helping to create virtual retail stores to enable the product companies and manufacturing companies to visualize what their product would look like at the store.
Mark Hardy, Incontext Solutions CEO, said, “80 percent of new products fail within three years. Build it, test it, roll it out. If you are creating a store, you make changes to normal flows that will alienate or attract customers. People are now more careful about what products they select. People go to stores to discover new products. They go up and down an aisle, you can’t really do that with ecommerce stores.”
He also mentioned how Tesla and Apple were also changing the traditional environment in a retail store. Tesla has a unique experience in the way that customers can go to a mall, decide what type of car you would like to purchase and then walk across the street to test it out. Apple is able to create experiences with a few select products that still seem to pack up their stores with customers.
Hardy said, “There is no salesman, it’s ‘here is my toy, come play with it. For new products you have and you want to build and test this out over a year? You have to build prototypes. It all takes time. Prototypes look great on a white background, but when you put it in a store, with all that noise, it’s different. VR makes it easy to create the whole picture.”
This tends to work best for newer products where they need to catch the customer’s eye next to a competitor. It’s kind of like eye tracking for websites, except it’s immersive. Normally this would cost a lot to test at a mock store. Incontext Solutions also analyzes results on their platform compared to results from mock stores. They discovered that results were extremely close. The main difference is that they were able to gather the data within a matter of days, rather than having to wait months.
Hardy said, “It all streams in real-time. For example, take a brand manager for Coke in North America. Someone on their sales team is in their office and chatting with someone from Walmart. Typically they use powerpoint, face-to-face, calls, etc. For testing, they do it in retail spaces,” said Hardy. “It eliminates all the cost and time in the process of ideating for a product, store, or aisle.”
Since they’re able to stream in real time, that means that they’re able to make changes very fast. By just refreshing the browser, the client or customer is able to reload the store and look at the change that was made. VR isn’t all great, although it is very cool.
One of Hardy’s main questions revolves around how people will monetize VR.
“Typically they are thinking of the B2C market,” noted Hardy. “What we are seeing in the B2B market, there is a sustainable model that builds a SaaS based model. It’s not about an app and hoping to get it free. It’s about allowing their own enterprise to go in and collaborate in real-time. Pitching ideas used to be verbal or a sketch, and now you can interact in real-time. You can make immediate changes, hit refresh and done.”
Due to Incontext Solutions’ methods, they don’t need VR headsets or several powerful computers.
The consumer side of virtual reality is just beginning to gain traction, however the business side has been existence for a few years now. Hardy said, “As a virtual company, our growth would be considered a high growth company. Double digit growth – 50 percent year-over-year or better. We will continue at that rate.”
Incontext Solutions is planning on raising a new round of funds in the fairly near future. They also just opened an office in Europe and they continue to expand their clientele as they grow across the world.
“You can see your clients and say this is fun… work is fun again. You will see the acceleration of virtual this year and next with additional content. People imagined with B2C in mind, but it’s really about B2B,” said Hardy.
In regards to learning as they go, the company uses a very simple system based on Unity, the gaming company.“We built it so grandma can use it on their computer. But with more head mounted displays coming, the requirements will expand,” said Hardy.
The virtual reality world is just starting to heat up, but as for VR in business, the potential is endless. In 2016, most people will think of headsets when they think of virtual reality. However, virtual reality will completely immerse people, which in turn will even change the way people make purchases.
Hardy said, “With the proliferation of head mounted devices getting out there, the natural progression is into ecommerce. First we went to mobile commerce – mcommerce, the next step is vcommerce. We can easily connect our system into a POS system. I can be sitting here with my son playing Black Opps, mom will say we have to go down to the store and pick up school supplies, and I can easily flip into the store and make a order.
He went on to speak about how a vcommerce environment could be very beneficial to businesses. He thinks that in ecommerce, companies are trying to cross-sell and up-sell customers. As for vcommerce, he said, “If I could get one more product in the basket… sales go through the roof. With vcommerce it’s different. You are in a virtual store.”
Virtual reality continues to progress quickly. Hardy said, “It will still get better. Another issue was latency. If you turn head, and there is a nano difference between what your eye sees and is physically occurring there was uneasiness. With the HTC Vive, I can put it on for 10-20 mins and feel fine. They are conquering the tech challenges. Now the challenge is getting the devices down to what consumers can afford.”