Coming Soon: Virtual Holiday Shopping

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Instead of visiting a shopping mall or website after Thanksgiving, imagine combining both experiences in a virtual mall. While it's still in the nascent stage, VR stands to impact the way people shop and give new meaning to showrooming and e-commerce.

Instead of visiting a shopping mall or website after Thanksgiving, imagine combining both experiences in a virtual mall. As virtual reality headsets become more affordable, virtual reality is becoming accessible to the average shopper. And while it's still in the nascent stage, VR stands to impact the way people shop and give new meaning to showrooming and e-commerce.VR production companies like Visualise and Trillenium are already adding VR experiences to e-commerce. In a partnership with travel agent Thomas Cook, Visualise created VR demonstrations where people can virtually visit destinations. The company designed a series of virtual experiences like a helicopter tour of Manhattan and a restaurant in a Cyprus resort, allowing consumers to sample vacation destinations before booking a trip. The content is compatible with Samsung Gear VR.

Eventually we'll have customized VR shops, predicts Henry Stuart, co-founder and CEO of Visualise. "Shopping will be tailored in VR," Stuart told audiences at Wired Retail. "It will only show stuff that's relevant to you, and you will be able to pick things up in the virtual world and feel them, as well as play with them, before you start to buy them."

Trillenium is working on a virtual mall where shoppers can browse a virtual store by focusing their gaze on products, examine merchandise from different angles and socialize with friends online, adding a new facet to an e-commerce industry that's defined by flat images and text boxes. The technology is compatible with Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and other VR headsets.

"We want to give you the experience of shopping without actually going to the store," said Trillenium Founder Hrvoje Prpic in a video introducing his store concept. The company has already raised nearly $400,000 in venture capital and its investors include a major European online retailer, ASOS.

More than 69 percent of U.S. shoppers are likely to participate in "webrooming" (shopping for products online before visiting the retail store to make their purchase) and 65 percent are likely to participate in "showrooming" (visiting a store to review a product before purchasing it online) this holiday season, reports Accenture.

Depending on how advanced VR technology becomes, consumers might skip the store altogether if they can virtually handle a product from their home, pay for it online, and receive it the next day or within an hour. Brick-and-mortar retailers would have to seriously rethink their value proposition in a world where VR competes with reality. Of course, such a scenario requires a seamless alignment of marketing, IT, supply chains, payment processing, and other departments. It's not impossible, though.

Indeed, the factors that used to limit the where and when of shopping have already disappeared. "Retail is everywhere, and no longer about a location or a channel," noted Patricia Walker, senior managing director of products and North America retail practice lead at Accenture, in a statement.

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