Virtual reality is one of those terms we’ve heard for a really long time, but it has always seemed like tomorrow’s technology. However, it’s actually here, now, and starting to gain some real momentum.

Virtual reality is one of those terms we’ve heard for a really long time but that has always seemed like tomorrow’s technology. But it’s actually here, now, and starting to gain some real momentum. The Oculus Rift is a Virtual Reality (VR) headset that plants the user deep inside an immersive 360º digital experience that, when combined with headphones, takes over your brain. It can be so immersive and disorientating that we’ve had people falling over when experiencing the roller coaster simulator in Somo’s Lab.

The headset has a screen that displays a digital scene immediately in front of your eyes. As you move your head, the scene you are viewing moves - as you stand atop Mount Everest, looking south you see Nepal, turn your head to the north and marvel at Tibet. It’s fantastically immersive and really needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

Designed for immersive gaming…?

Oculus Rift is a self-described ‘immersive gaming headset’ that has been garnering a lot of interest outside of gaming to deliver unique digital experiences that haven’t been possible before this technology. Topshop recently delivered a brilliant VR experience at London Fashion Week where five Oculus Rifts could transport shoppers in-store to the Tate Modern’s famous Turbine Hall to experience the catwalk of London Fashion Week, usually only available to fashion’s elite.

Nissan has also been experimenting with Oculus Rift, developing a 3D world that showcases its latest concept car, aimed at younger ‘digital natives’. The experience is based around navigating a 3D environment, exploring the scene as you build up a your concept car.

Shut up and take my money!

Oculus Rift is still not on public release. Its Kickstarter campaign was a huge success and the product has since been picked up by key developers seeking to take advantage of this wondrous new method of delivering an experience. How is this relevant to retailers now? Whilst the two examples above are an excellent start for a device that hasn’t yet seen public release, the immediate possibilities are even greater.

Retailers have an excellent opportunity to showcase their items in situ, for example, on a cold February day in central London a sundress can be viewed on a model walking along a Brazilian beach, helping the customer see how the item will look on their holiday. White goods retailers can showcase the full Bosch kitchen range in a virtual kitchen, rotating each fridge before selecting the best one and swiping the others away. Auto brands can sit you in the brand new Audi R8  where you can look in intimate detail at the full interior - step outside and admire the exterior, all without having the car physically in the showroom.

The Oculus Rift is expected to go on public sale this year at a sub $300 price point, which suddenly makes these devices seem mainstream. It is highly realistic that these devices, or copycats, will allow brands, retailers, and agencies to deliver unique, immersive experiences only available through a VR platform; they take the interactivity and engagement we see on mobile devices to another level. Somo’s advice: buy, buy, buy!

Joel Blackmore is senior innovations manager at mobile agency Somo.