VR: Don’t be a virtual latecomer

If you’re not in gaming or medical arts, virtual reality is likely to be one of those items that sits on your to-do list, but is not likely to be near the top. It’s one of those items for which many a business person elects late-adopter status: Let the tech geeks and early adopters figure it all out and then I’ll jump in when it becomes relevant to me.


Retail real estate execs who fall into that category may want to reconsider. I did after attending this year’s Virtual Reality LA Expo, which was, both literally and figuratively, an eye-opening experience. I came away convinced that VR and AR (augmented reality) are already having a tremendous impact across a wide range of industries. Much of the technology I saw on display has been in use on a global scale for five to 10 years. 


VR users can experience what it’s like to walk on the moon, follow Jacques Cousteau to the ocean floor, play in a professional sporting match, and experience human body functions from a macro to micro level. Just imagine the possibilities for retailers and real estate professionals. Rebecca Minkoff employs technology in fitting rooms that lets customers virtually try on clothes. Lowe’s is using a technology that helps remodelers visualize how installations will look in their own home settings. Ikea, a pioneer in the use of augmented reality in catalogs, has launched an app that allows customers to view and rearrange Ikea furniture in their own homes after taking a series of photos of their living spaces. The system has the capacity to let them choose from more than 5,600 virtual products. 


Astute real estate developers and leasing companies recognized such a tool as idea for their own needs. Cushman Wakefield has introduced virtual market and property tours on several projects, including the sale of Yamashiro in Hollywood and an office project near the Irvine Spectrum Center. A company called Transported has created a platform that allows users to take virtual tours of neighborhoods and or commercial properties. This is more than a convenience; it’s an opportunity for sellers to add new layers of information and engagement. Pop-ups display market data or detailed information about a building. Interactive menus allow neighborhood searches. 


Some Facebook members already own hardware that lets them virtually hang out with friends. Imagine the future implications of a technology that allows one to go to the mall with a friend or family member who lives on the other side of the country. And retailers take note: the technology enables people to make purchases. 


Brokers can use virtual tours as another step in the qualification process and acquisition representatives can use them to make critical evaluations about a property’s accessibility, suitability, and value. Prospective tenants can use virtual layouts to select different designs and interiors. IR Architects in California is using software that allows landlords and developers to conduct virtual walkthroughs to evaluate different layouts and design features. Consequently, any changes can be made up-front instead of mid-construction, avoiding delays that could quite literally make a million-dollar difference.


Emerging from the VRLA conference, it was clear to me that playing catch-up in the fast-paced fields of VR and AR was not an option. It’s already too late to be an early adopter, but it’s not too early to abandon any notion of becoming a late one. 

Based in Los Angeles, Stephanie Skrbin is a Principal with Avison Young where she is a member of the firm’s national retail services group. She can be reached at


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