A virtual-reality start-up hopes to redefine the sales process of luxury goods, starting with yachts.
With one hand on the steering wheel and the other cranking up the throttle, I am sailing the open ocean on my own tailor-made yacht. The intrinsic inertia from waves of water is felt throughout the ride as I test engine speeds; and when I finally decide to dock and step out of the boat, I get a little seasick.
“It used to be worse,” admits Serguei Beloussov, director of SW Interactive, developer of my computer-simulated jaunt. “We now include a hardtop into our virtual vessels to help users fight motion sickness.”
Founded in 2016 with a seed investment from the Russian-born Singaporean serial entrepreneur, SW Interactive hopes to change the way yachts, and all sorts of luxury goods, are sold. Gone are the days of heavy brochures, simplistic videos or run-of-the-mill renderings.
SW Interactive’s pioneering 3D product involves strapping on a headset and clinging on to two wireless handheld controllers. The real magic happens virtually. Potential yacht buyers get to feast their eyes on their dream boat, from any angle they want and in detailed high resolution too. They can even pick and choose their preferred colours of the hull and materials used for the interior, from upholstery and cabinetry, to flooring and light fixtures. The configured results are viewed instantaneously.
When asked why the tech start-up decided to launch by tapping into the yacht brokerage sector, Beloussov answers: “The yacht industry and its sales process is super bespoke, with high levels of customisation. It can be complex, and complex is the perfect ground for virtual reality (VR).
“We also want to tap into the private jet sector for its technicalities and multifaceted specs but when buying a boat there’s a whole lifestyle element around it. With the beautiful surrounding sea, you can go diving or even take a helicopter ride from a yacht, so it was the perfect industry and illustration to kick-start our unique marketing aid.”
Beloussov also spent a lot of time talking to his clients, such as boat brokers, owners, ship dealers and builders, before building on his idea. While VR has been used to tackle design elements among boat engineers, SW Interactive claims to be the only company that offers this ultra-modern and immersive visual technology in a retail and sales-driven package.
“Yacht brokers are constantly talking to potential clients, but only five percent of these people become proud boat owners. Ninety-five percent of them decide not to buy, probably because they lose interest. VR is a way for brokers to engage their clients,” says Beloussov.
Purchasing a boat is a process that takes at least 12 weeks. However, this estimate only includes selecting a vessel and deciding on the modifications. The final product will take months, even years, to complete. SW Interactive claims that it can develop an online portfolio of manufacturer’s vessels at a speed of three weeks per boat, lessening reliance on physical demonstration models that take more time and cost to help make a sale.
Beloussov says: “We’re not saying VR will replace real-life demonstrations but, from a business perspective, it will help customers be easily engaged through an experiential buying process, eliminating boundaries of travel, space and time. Yes, luxury takes time. Our clients believe there is something called perfection and they demand from us nothing less than that too.”