Best Buy has recently begun carrying a bigger assortment of virtual reality products, including the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Zeiss VR One Plus and Samsung Gear VR headsets, at mass scale in its retail stores.
As one of the country's largest and most well-known retailers of consumer electronics, this could signal an interesting turning point in mass adoption of VR. The future, however, remains unclear. Will mass-produced products, offered at lower, more affordable price points, further pique consumer interest in VR? Or is this just another flash-in-the-pan tech phenomenon?
The Role of Retailers in VR Adoption
Consumer technology retailers like Best Buy and general big-box retailers like Walmart will play a major role in future public adoption of VR. Best Buy has a history of taking cutting-edge technologies and being the first to put them in the hands of the consumer. This was the case for popular wearables like the Apple Watch, Fitbit and Pebble smartwatch.
With any technology, consumer education is always the most important element of mass adoption. Best Buy and its team of retail professionals do an exceptional job at leading consumers by the hand and teaching them about the latest products on the shelf. Ensuring merchants have a good understanding of VR and are capable of selling it to consumers by showing them how to use it will be vital as more and more retailers begin carrying the products.
While it will likely be a year or so before VR goes mainstream, it's safe to say that we can anticipate a surge of consumer activity in VR this holiday season. Retail partners who are on track to sell VR during the biggest shopping period of the year will certainly help kick start VR into mainstream appeal.
VR's Viral Trajectory
In the current marketplace, it's the early-adopting gamers who are willing to look past the hefty price tag for VR technology. But for the average consumer, curiosity about VR is just beginning to surface. This is evident in mobile VR/AR with the emergence of games like Pokémon Go and apps on the Google Play and Apple App Stores made for Google Cardboard, where consumers can test out new VR platforms at an affordable price, with the convenience of their smartphone.
In order for VR to take a mainstream hold, manufacturers will need to find a way to appeal to the mass market, at a price that makes sense not only for the hard core gamers (who would pay for VR no matter the cost), but for everyday consumers who could use VR to supplement the way they consume digital media, news and entertainment.
Of course, there will always be VR skeptics, some of whom may never resolve to adoption. It's these skeptics who don't believe anyone would pay the price required to experience quality VR.
However, if quality VR could be experienced for a reasonable price point, say $100 or less, a lot of skeptics might be swayed. Ecosystems like Google Daydream are already teasing this by offering consumers high quality, mobile VR at an affordable price.
So far, 2016 has been a springboard year for VR. It's the year many people have heard or will hear about VR for the first time. Some will actually get to experience it, while others will remain curious and open to new VR technologies in the future.
For perhaps a few million people, the 2016 holiday season will be the first time they play a VR game. After that, VR has a much greater chance of becoming a mass market technology, and we can anticipate its explosion in popularity in 2017 and beyond.
Dave Hodgson is North America sales and distribution director for Zeiss Multimedia Devices, a group within the consumer products division of Zeiss, makers of camera lens, binoculars and scopes. Multimedia devices include the Zeiss VR One headset and future wearable devices with specialized lenses.