There can be few technologies that have seen quite as much hype over the past few years as virtual reality (VR). Ever since Facebook spent $2 billion in 2014 to acquire the technology behind the Oculus Rift – a product that started life as a crowd-funded Kickstarter project – people have been waiting expectantly for it to hit the mainstream.
There’s still a long way to go before this happens. While there are several competing headsets on the market, clear applications for the technology are still in relatively short supply, with initial ideas limited mostly to immersive gaming or exploration. But that’s changing as more retail brands start to show interest in the technology as a new showcase for their products – and along with that will naturally come the need for payments solutions.
Mastercard and Swarovski showcase VR tech
One example of how VR may make its way into the payments space was showcased recently by Mastercard. The card provider has teamed up with fashion and crystal retailer Swarovski to create a virtual shopping experience that lets users browse and pay for items from a single VR app.
Within the app, users are able to examine pieces from the brand’s Atelier Swarovski home decor line within a virtual home environment designed to show off the pieces as they would appear in a user’s living room. Customers can access a range of information about individual items in the app, including their value, details of the manufacturing process and the inspiration behind them.
But what makes this VR app different is its direct integration with Mastercard’s Masterpass digital payment service. If a consumer sees an item they like, they can complete a purchase within the immersion of the app, by turning their gaze on the Masterpass button that appears at the bottom of the product description.
There is no need to enter payment details, while the customers will be automatically logged out of their Masterpass account when they exit the application, or the headset is removed, in order to avoid unintended purchases.
Is the industry ready for VR payments?
The main selling point of the app is clearly the ability to give consumers an uninterrupted virtual shopping experience that isn’t broken by forcing them to return to the real world. By doing so, it aims to give people even more choice about how they shop and make payments. But is it more than a gimmick?
Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice-president for merchants and acceptance at Mastercard, said the company’s goal is to make payments as seamless and secure as possible, no matter how an individual wishes to pay. “This means that merchants need to be able to engage their customers across multiple, technology platforms – in-store, online, in-app and via virtual and augmented reality,” she said.
The question is whether consumers are ready or willing to do this on a regular basis. Aside from the fact that few people currently have access to the necessary technology – virtual reality headsets are still very much a niche market – one key issue is if it will actually be more convenient than a traditional online or mobile store.
The ‘wow factor’ of a virtual store may be enough to get people to try it once, but once the novelty value has worn off, it remains to be seen whether they will come back. VR technology is still in its infancy, despite the huge strides that have been made in recent years.
That’s not to say there won’t be a place for it in the payments space, particularly for luxury and lifestyle brands where the user experience is a big part of the brand’s appeal. But like all new innovations, it may take a period of trial and error before the industry hits on a true ‘killer app’.