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 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.
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.
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.