March 26, 2018

Virtual Reality Shopping has arrived

Virtual reality shopping at Ikea

In the past, online shopping has been limited to looking at a few product pictures or occasionally a video, accompanied by a description of the product. For some reasons, online vendors never quite got around to virtual reality shopping. You couldn’t take a virtual walkthrough of a store, pushing a trolley, seeing the goods on shelves and picking them and taking a look at them from all sides. Even Amazon, despite its size and deep coffers, preferred to be little more than a text and picture catalogue for online purchase.

Now, however, things are changing. And all thanks to Virtual Reality headsets. The obvious and sensible way to provide online shopping - mimic the experience of a physical shop rather than a printed catalogue - has skipped a generation. You still won’t see it on a flat 2D screen any time soon. But it is now coming to 3D. Strap on a VR headset and you can quite literally walk through an online store and make purchases. Virtual reality shopping has arrived.

Ikea leads the way in virtual Reality shopping

With the IKEA app below, you can mimic the experience of walking through an IKEA store an making purchases.

But with this one, you can even move things around, change the colors, and really see how different variations would look. This is true virtual reality shopping!

You can do the same with their kitchen app, where you can move things around and design your kitchen the way you want it. We have talked about visualizing furniture in situ in the past.

In some cases, you can even take items off the shelves and buy them. This should be de riguer for virtual reality shopping, because most stores these days are self-service. Take for example this demo (below) of ShelfZone from InVRsion, for the HTC Vive. Their virtual store app and platform can not only enable you to walk through a virtual store and pick up the items you want to buy. It has eye-tracking, voice recognition and speech simulation. This means that you can talk to it and obtain help in finding what you are looking for, just as you could with a friendly and helpful member of front line staff in a real store.

Alternatively, Santa Clara based company Cappasity is offering online shopping for Software as a Service. With their platform, even a small online retailer can be up and running very quickly with their own virtual reality shopping store. And it is scalable.

Other retail technology

But even more a conventional shopping trip can be enhanced with modern technology. Take for example, the Google Glass augmented reality app below. It flashes up product information and advice when you walk through the shop, according to what you are looking at. You can ask it questions, select recipes and ask where the ingredients are, make a video call and share what you are looking at for advice. Strictly speaking, this is not virtual reality shopping. But it is impressive nevertheless.

More conventional still is Amazon Go. This is a self-service store which cuts out the need for standing in a check-out queue. You log in with an app and cameras and sensors track you (and every other customer) what you take off the shelf and what you put back.

So far, they have only have one store - in Seattle - which opened on December 5, 2016, and to the public on January 22, 2018. It is all explained in the following video.

Again, this is not virtual reality shopping. But it is high tech shopping that will inevitable compete with its virtual counterpart, because it offers immediacy and convenience.

Finally, there is the virtual interactive mirror, that enables you to try on clothes without actually changing into them. It would mostly be located in stores - although in theory there is no reason why it cannot be located in people’s homes too, to help them make their selections and choices. Of course, it can only you tell you what the clothes look like, not whether they feel comfortable. But it’s still a useful technology for eliminating the items you don’t want.

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