The Virtual Reality of eCommerce
eCommerce is growing rapidly, resulting in the closing of a number of brick-and-mortar stores. It seems that the future of shopping is almost entirely online as eCommerce sales in the US soar into the trillions. One drawback to eCommerce shopping is the lack of an in-store experience. Online shopping does not allow for interaction with and trial of a product. Or does it? In order to work past this roadblock, several big name companies have been working to develop technology that takes online shopping to the next level. The answer to the problem lies in virtual reality. With VR technology, customers have the ability to feel as if they are in a physical store location. They are also able to interact with 3D models of products similar to how you are able to in real life. Although widespread eCommerce VR implementation is farther off, businesses have already begun testing virtual reality shopping worlds.
Alibaba Takes Strides
Recently, Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba revealed their VR shopping model. In November 2016, at their Singles Day shopping festival, they allowed consumers to try their Buy+ virtual shopping experience. The technology allowed its users to travel through a virtual land that began with a taxi ride through New York City before being dropped off at the Macy’s store. In the store, consumers were able to interact with employees and browse through a number of products. They could purchase items right then and there, without taking the headset off. This is exactly how the eCommerce platform’s lack of in-store experience is overcome.
This technology is truly remarkable, allowing consumers to step directly into a realistic shopping world without moving their feet. Whether that scares you or excites you, you have to admit it’s pretty impressive. It draws the question of what eCommerce will look like five to ten years from now. Will people be sitting in their homes with headsets on, simulating an in-store shopping experience? It’s hard to say. It’s safe to assume that some people will be, but it may take longer for the practice to have a widespread effect as many consumers still prefer real in-store shopping rather than virtual in-store shopping. Either way, the hurtle of less personal shopping experiences online is being jumped.
Leap Motion, a company that focuses on hand-tracking technology, has made further steps toward a more realistic shopping experience online. They are developing hand-tracking technology that will allow users to interact with the elements of VR with their hands. This technology is designed to recognize hand movements and to parallel these movements in the VR world. For online shopping, this technology would allow consumers to interact with eCommerce VR products like never before, enabling them to swipe through and pick up items with just a couple movements of their hand.
Technology company Avametric and Google teamed up to create a virtual reality dressing room for Gap. Housed within an app they appropriately called DressingRoom, the VR experience allows users to see what Gap clothing products will look like on them. The app does so by having users choose their body type and then shows them a mannequin that represents their body, shown “in front of them” using the phone’s camera. They can then try on different sizes of a number of Gap clothing items to see how each size and product looks and fits on their body type.
eCommerce VR and the Future
It clearly seems that eCommerce is heading closer and closer toward incorporating the world of virtual reality in business. It is only a matter of time until the virtual reality shopping worlds and dressing rooms created by the likes of Alibaba and Gap are fine-tuned, perfected, and released to the world on a mass scale. This addition of virtual reality worlds in the eCommerce environment will allow for more personal shopping experiences online, including being able to “hold” and “try on” products and clothing before buying it. These advancements will elevate the already-booming business of eCommerce to even higher levels, minus the obstacles that keep some people from online shopping. But will the introduction of eCommerce VR create problems of its own? Probably, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.