Tag Archives: ecommerce

Virtual shopping now a reality

Virtual shopping featured image above: credit COMSALUD via Compfight cc

Top retail and eCommerce brands are beginning to leverage virtual reality (VR) technology to offer a cutting-edge, immersive virtual shopping experience to consumers.

In May 2016, eBay launched what they claim is the world’s first virtual reality department store, built in partnership with Australia’s largest department store group, Myer.

To step into this virtual shopping space, shoppers wear VR headsets sold by eBay Australia. These devices, called ‘shopticals’, allow eBayers to browse more than 12,000 items from a dedicated app on their smartphone. With Ebay’s Sight SearchTM technology, a shopper can select a desired item simply by holding their gaze on the product, which appears to float towards them for further inspection.

“Your eyes can move so quickly… Sight Search in a VR world of retail feels very sensible,” said eBay’s senior director of marketing and retail innovation Steve Brennen to Mashable Australia. “How much customers use it, do they love it, is where we’ll get to next.”

This technology is expected to become prevalent across markets in Australia, the USA and the UK. The 2016 Future of Retail Study carried out by Walker Sands reveals that more than one in every three Americans are open to the idea of purchasing more online if VR technology gives them ‘a more realistic feel of the product’.

virtual shopping
Virtual reality headsets enable virtual shopping apps used on smartphones.

Virtual shopping for the home

eBay and Myer aren’t the only retailers working to integrate VR into their digital shopping experience. In early April 2016, Swedish megastore IKEA announced the launch of a pilot VR app for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. The app, which is still in its beta stage, promises to transform the home furnishing retail experience.

“Australians are known for embracing the latest technology and innovations, so virtual reality has the potential to transform the way people interact with our products in the home,” says IKEA Australia’s range manager Tim Prevade. “We look forward to hearing our customers’ feedback on the experience as we continue to explore this space.”

Deal-finding service Retale also announced the launch of a new VR app that will work using Oculus Rift – a headset created by virtual tech company Oculus. While focusing on Rift for the initial release, Retale plans to expand the app to function on multiple platforms.

The future of virtual shopping

Although virtual reality experiences have been on the market since the 90’s, experts still consider the technology to be in early in its development.

“Right now, VR commerce is still in its infancy stage, and like most new technologies, is also still in the novelty stage,” said Worldpay’s Vice President of Innovation and Design Joe Kleinwaechter to Mobile Commerce Daily.

Most VR headsets still require mobile and other computing devices to function, such as Gear VR by Samsung, which relies on the power of its paired Galaxy smartphone.

But according to Samsung’s head of R&D software and services, Injong Rhee, the company plans to develop a standalone headset that provides seamless virtual reality experiences without the need of its paired device.

“We are working on wireless and dedicated VR devices, not necessarily working with our mobile phone,” says Rhee.

Samsung will be competing against Google who are racing towards the same goal, which will transform VR headsets from accessory items to standalone personal devices.

Virtual payments

The rise of virtual reality isn’t just transforming the digital shopping industry. It is also opening up opportunities for financial technologies, such as virtual currency Bitcoin and alternative virtual payment systems.

Virtual currency Bitcoin. Credit: zcopley via Compfight cc
Virtual currency Bitcoin. Credit: zcopley via Compfight cc

Gaining mainstream status, Bitcoin is now being sold at newsagents in Australia. Encrypted currencies called cryptocurrencies are also gaining popularity in the USA and European countries as an alternative payment method in real shopping environments, and could be applied to the virtual shopping arena to offer consumers a more convenient mode of payment.

The adoption of virtual currencies by consumers would help to complete the virtual shopping experience through to checkout.

– TechEverywhere

Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce

The world is changing and changing fast! Several studies, such as Australia’s Future Workforce released by CEDA last year, tell us that 40% of the jobs we know today will not exist in 15 years. So what do we need to do be ready for this? Here is my four-step plan:

1. Need for basic science literacy

The need of a base level of science literacy is growing as our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology and science to support our daily lives[1]. However, the number of school children undertaking science and mathematics in their final years at high school is dropping at alarming rates.

Those who can use devices and engage with new technology are able to participate better in the modern world. Those unable to are left behind.

Because Australia has high labour costs, and as robotics and other automated technologies replace many jobs, school education needs to inspire young Australians to realise that science is both a highly creative endeavour, and a pathway to entrepreneurial and financial success.

We need to inspire a wider range of personality types to consider post-school science and engineering training and education as a pathway to build new businesses.

2. Need to broaden the scope of university education

Currently Australian universities are highly motivated to direct research and teaching activities towards academic excellence, as this is the recognised measure of university performance.

Industry experience and methods of solving industrial problems are not generally seen as components of the metrics of academic excellence.

We need to increase the focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and industry exposure and engagement during university education.

“If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.”

3. Need to lift industry skills

It is essential that businesses and technologists better understand people’s needs and wants, so they can be more successful in designing and producing products and services that increase their competitiveness locally, and allow them to enter the global market. They can do this by using the opportunities that digital-, agile-, e- and i-commerce can offer.

If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.

Recent statistics demonstrate that Australian manufacturing is characterised by a high vocational education and training (VET) to university-educated workforce ratio. If we are to move to a more advanced industry focus in Australia, this ratio needs to change – not necessarily by reducing the number of VET-qualified employees, but through the development of higher-value positions that necessitate a university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educated workforce.

In industrial settings, complexities occur where the adoption of design-led innovation principles can make a difference. Recent research has indicated that the application of design-led innovation by Australian companies can be the forerunner of future success.

4. Embracing the full human potential

As future capacity builds through the initiatives mentioned above, there is a need to engage the full spectrum of capability that is already trained in STEM.

There is latent capability there for the taking if we capitalise on the opportunities that a diverse workforce has to offer.

Development of approaches to attract and retain women, people of different cultures, broader age groups including the young and the old, and all socioeconomic classes, has the potential to lift our workforce skill set.

Time is running out. We need to act now.

Dr Cathy Foley

Deputy Director and Science Director, CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship

Read next: Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group on how National security relies on STEM.

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[1] Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future, A Report from the Office of the Chief Scientist, September 2014.