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Shopping Through Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to change the way we shop. The internet revolutionized the shopping experience by giving us access to all our purchasing needs at the click of a button. However, the 2D nature of browsing products makes it hard to determine specifics like size and shape, for example, and to really explore a product and its functionality. You are always limited to the information and pictures made available.

VR makes a great platform for browsing products and getting a better sense for their physicality. A VR product in a showroom can be explored from all angles, allowing the user to get a better sense of size, shape, construction etc. and to see how it looks from any angle (not just those provided).

This provides a shopping experience which combines the best aspects of online shopping with real-life browsing. Customers have access to the limitless choice that online shopping provides and are also able to explore items in a way that mimics real life without the need to actually visit a shop. They can explore products in much greater detail with the only difference being that they can’t physically interact with anything. This provides a great level of convenience to the consumer who wants to shop online but is frustrated the limitations they face in doing so. In some cases this may also be more convenient than real-life browsing. For example, customers can view customization options (such as colour changes) immediately and don’t have to wait for different sizes to be retrieved from a storeroom. There is also the opportunity for virtual product demonstrations and interactivity – customers could virtually sample the use of an item before committing to buy (something which might not be possible in the real world depending on the product).

There is already some uptake amongst large-scale retailers, such as ASOS, have already developed an online shopping platform. It will allow brands who sell through ASOS to buy space in a virtual store for customers to browse.

This also shows the evolution of VR from being a primarily gaming oriented technology to becoming much more ubiquitous with the potential to transform our lives in broader ways, including how we shop. With Facebook’s purchase of the Oculus Rift and their aims to incorporate VR into a wider range of uses we can expect to see VR become more commonplace and, along with it, a greater emphasis on VR focused online retail experiences.

This extends to bigger, more bespoke purchases. VR is already being used in the refurnishing/house fittings sector. Travel companies (Thomas Cook, Thompson) and hotel chains (Marriot) are using VR experiences to give potential customers a taste of holiday destinations and attractions before booking. Companies such as Thomas Cook are rolling out VR across numerous stores, having had great success using VR to help customers get a feel for different travel destinations . Marriot hotels, similarly, are using VR (combined with physical ‘4D’ Teleporter stations) to give holidaymakers an all-encompassing taste of destinations , combining smell and motion with VR to create a more immersive experience.

All these possibilities show the potential for VR to be used as retail tool for selling simple off-the-shelf products, such as clothes or white goods, to larger purchases, such as holidays. The convenience of being able to sample a product or a location without the hassles of internet or real-world shopping is a major draw. We have experience working with numerous clients developing VR shopping research tools as well as developing VR retail spaces for online shopping platforms. As VR becomes cheaper and more accessible we can expect to see this market expanding.

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