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How London Designer Outlet is bringing VR to the mainstream

It increasingly appears that shopping and leisure experiences are combining to serve the modern consumer’s needs – and a recent move from Wembley’s London Designer Outlet (LDO) is certainly following that path.

The shopping destination, which opened at the end of 2013, has added a virtual reality (VR) attraction to its site thanks to last week's arrival of ImmotionVR.

Several retailers around the world have been trialling VR technology to see how it can help them serve customers, or – in the case of Walmart and Costa Coffee – be used to help train staff and get them up to speed on certain processes. So far, take-up of the technology across the industry has been limited.

At LDO, though, the VR from ImmotionVR is a standalone experience, effectively allowing customers to pay to use the facilities and be ‘taken away’ into the virtual world. It is a cross between cinema and a theme park ride, and it’s being marketed as a family experience, which could open up VR technology to all age ranges.

Fittingly for this time of year, one of the inaugural VR experiences offered to customers is called ‘Elf Power Inc, Christmas Experience’, which allows participants to imagine what it might be like to fly around the globe with Father Christmas and his elves. Among the other experiences for customers to try out are ghost train and space-themed VR worlds.

ImmotionVR now has 12 locations across the UK, including at Bristol’s Cabot Circus, Cardiff's St David’s shopping centre, and Manchester’s Arndale Centre.

Arek Antoniak, head of retail operations at ImmotionVR, commented: “We’ll be offering families a unique type of experience, with cutting-edge VR that will be a great addition to the leisure park, creating new experiences where the possibilities are literally endless.

“From young to old, VR will take you to new worlds or provide a new twist on familiar tales.”

Mainstream VR?

Each year, statements emanating from Facebook’s Oculus conference in the US suggest that VR is set to go mainstream, but as yet the technology it is still bubbling under the surface of wide adoption.

The launch of its $200 Oculus Go headset in the spring, at a few hundred dollars less than the general price for VR headsets, was touted as the technology to take VR into more homes and, therefore, to the masses.

But perhaps it will be physical installations of VR, such as ImmotionVR’s site at Wembley and in shopping centres across the UK, that raise visibility of the technology and stimulate further interest in the market. Experiences at the LDO location, for example, start from £5, and they are suitable for those aged six and above.

The technology used at LDO is a combination of Vive Pro headsets and Immotion’s cinema pods and additional simulator hardware. Content is created at Immotion's own animation studio in Media City, Manchester.

Sue Shepherd, centre manager at LDO, a destination which hosts retailers and brands such as Converse, Adidas, Skechers, Jack Wills, Lindt, and Hamleys, said the school holidays represented a suitable time for ImmotionVR to arrive at the venue.

“It adds a new dimension to LDO’s existing diverse range of retail, leisure and dining and is a fun and innovative way to experience the best in virtual reality.” 

Mayor of Brent, Councillor Arshad Mahmood, who was tasked with opening the store, said it brings something new to the area.

“There isn’t anything like this locally, so it’s a nice new addition to the London Designer Outlet, a fresh alternative experience for people to try out and enjoy with their families."

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