The future is coming: how virtual reality gadgets can revolutionize online shopping

10 November 2016

What about bringing an online shopping experience to real life? Virtual reality is no longer reserved just for the entertainment and video gaming industries – now it is expected to reshape the online retail sector and provide new exciting ways to promote products and services. The idea is simple: instead of just scrolling through images of products available online, customers can use wearable headsets or goggles to choose goods virtually and review them in three dimensions.

As virtual reality is becoming mainstream, many retailers are thinking about using the new technology to directly engage with consumers and let them preview merchandise virtually. This way it’s most likely that consumers who are still hesitant to make a purchase will make a positive decision. Plus, such online apps can significantly reduce the risk of returns since customers can preview colors, shapes, sizes or other parameters more accurately and make sure that they like the item before paying for it.

According to a market report conducted by Goldman Sachs, in 10 years the virtual reality retail market can rise to 1.6 billion. The pioneers are fashion brands – for example, Tommy Hilfiger, Topshop, Balenciaga, and Dior offer customers and fans to witness their catwalk shows and even go behind the scenes with models using virtual reality headsets. ASOS, one of the biggest online fashion stores, has partnered with Trillenium to offer customers a new immersive shopping experience – in future, they will be able to try on the clothes or talk to shop assistants from the comfort of their homes.

virtual reality

The high potential of the new technology attracts serious investors and allows big IT corporations to spend a lot of time and money on the development of virtual reality hardware. Nowadays, users can choose among numerous offers, ranging from cheap cardboard goggles to expensive high tech virtual helmets. For example, Google offers a Google Cardboard VR viewer ($15), Mattel’s View-Master VR starter pack ($29.99), or Goggle Tech C1 Glass ($14.99). Samsung Gear VR costs $69.99, while the price of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStationVR is over $500.

eBay & Myer: the first VR department store

EBay Australia, one of the largest online marketplaces, has teamed up with Myer to provide a virtual reality mobile app showing how retail shopping will look like in the future. The new Virtual Reality Department Store app available on iTunes and Google Play combines time-tested auction technologies with a wide range of products from Myer, Australia’s largest department store group. The app features more than 12,000 different items that users can browse, choose and buy virtually.

When you open the app, you can indicate your preferences and interests to see the most relevant products first. The smart technology also takes into consideration your typical searching parameters and shopping patterns to suggest products that you might be interested in. You can choose the products by staring at them for a few seconds. After that, the chosen item will “float” towards you, often rotating in three dimensions. If you want to buy the item, you can just hold your eyes on the “Add to Basket” symbol to make a purchase via the eBay platform.

As for virtual reality headsets, the app is compatible with eBay’s Shopticals – the company has already given away 20.000 free devices to stimulate the interest to their innovative department store. Users just need to insert their smartphone into the front flap of the shopticals to see its display in front of their face. Plus, users can also use any Google Cardboard device and Samsung’s Gear VR. From January to April 2016, eBay sold 10.000 VR headsets, which shows that Australians are highly interested in the new offer and ready to try VR shopping.

Stayer race: VR shopping with Alibaba

The next big player in the VR retail sector is Ant Financial, a financial subsidiary of Alibaba Group, a Chinese e-commerce company providing sales services via online marketplaces. The company has introduced VR Pay, a new payment system designed to make purchases virtually, and Buy+, a virtual reality shopping program. Similar to the eBay’s VR store, users can use their smartphones and VR-capable devices to browse, select and purchase goods just by looking at them or nodding their head.

Using the new payment system, users don’t need to take off their VR headsets to check out. Their identity can be verified via account logins or via a voice biometric system that matches voice patterns with the prints stored in the database. As for passwords, it is possible to enter them with head movements, touch, or just by gazing at the point displayed on the virtual screen for a certain period of time. It is expected that the new service will be available for all users by the end of 2016 and that it can become an excellent solution for retailers who don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence in China.

Consumer reactions towards VR shopping, also called “v-commerce,” tend to be very positive: according to researches, two out of three consumers are interested in virtual reality apps allowing them to see items in real size and form. By 2018, the number of active VR users is expected to reach 171 million. Alibaba reports that its marketplaces sell around 300,000 VR devices per month. Thus, the new technology allowing users to avoid the chaos of real-life boutiques and department stores can become the next big thing after mobile commerce. However, as with everything new, it will take users some time to get used to a new shopping style.

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