Could VR blow your product pitch?

Use cases for VR in the enterprise are growing. But, when it comes to showing off a product, will virtual reality do you any favors? We talk about why it might or might not.

Image: iStock/SasinParaksa; Oculus

A few weeks back, I had to make a decision about moving from Louisville, Kentucky to San Francisco, California. There are lots of differences between the two cities, most significant of which being the cost of living and exactly how much square footage your money can get you. When you start looking at rent prices, you start convincing yourself of the livability of smaller and smaller amounts of space.

At least, that's what I did, until I saw a space.

One night I found a 360 view of a studio apartment I'd been favoring--just more than 400 sq feet, and after a few stunned minutes envisioning a tearful cross country drive sobbing along to Fleetwood Mac, leaving behind a cherished dining room table, bookshelf, and almost everything else, I closed the lid of my laptop.

This was not going to work.

Just like that, 360 talked me out of even going to tour the place--no salesperson was going to get to say things to me like "some people find it freeing to not have many material possessions" or "It's San Francisco! There's so much to see and do, you'll hardly be in your apartment anyway."

I asked Gartner analyst Brian Blau what he thought. He told me that in my case, exactly the right thing happened. I had a mismatched idea of what the space would be like and when I saw the reality of it, I avoided getting stuck with something I didn't want, and the building avoiding an unhappy tenant.

Cool. But what would a real estate agent think about losing the chance to make the pitch?

I called a real estate agent to ask. Gary Ashton is a Nashville-based RE/MAX agent, of the Ashton Real Estate Group, who is getting into virtual reality.

He wasn't concerned.

"I think that's the end goal--you get to a point where you can narrow it down to two properties, then you drive [there] and go 'yeah, I like this one. I just have a good feeling about it,' which is the intangible you can't get across from wearing a set of goggles."

Virtual reality could be a tool for getting both the buyer and the seller to a decision faster.

But what if you have a really bad product

I kept imagining someone trying to unload a fixer upper. Would a seller want to make a 360 experience for a total dump?

Ashton said if a place is in bad shape, it likely has a low list price, and if the price is low, they likely wouldn't devote the time or money into making the 360 in the first place.

"It's better to offer full disclosure and not get people to a property under false pretenses, which leads to disappointment," he said.

And if the home is priced way low, well, there might be a reason for that. There's just no masking the fact that sometimes a product is not what you want.

Aligning expectations

The big takeaway is that there's always risk involved when adopting a new technology.

A buyer could fall prey to a manipulated VR experience, promising something that doesn't exist or can't be delivered. A business could lose a customer too early in the purchase funnel.

"The designer of an experience has complete control over what happens," Blau said, "but even through the best of intentions, that design may not do its job, or it may only do its job for some and not others."

For Ashton, the biggest risk is not staying current.

"If you don't adopt new technology, you'll get left behind," he said.

The key is careful consideration of where a new technology will fit into your business, and just what real value it will deliver, what functions it could legitimately improve and how--if any.

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