A few hours ago, I occasioned upon an article by Rose Leadem of Entrepreneur Magazine. Speaking of the advent of eCommerce leading to the possible replacement of brick-and-mortar stores, she said, “even with the rise of ecommerce, nothing beats an in-store shopping experience”. The statement was in reference to the recent Walker Sands Future of Retail 2016 report, which conducted a survey of 1400 shoppers around the States, reaching the conclusion that many customers continue to prefer shopping at physical stores as opposed to Amazon or eBay. Instead of replacing physical stores altogether, the article said, electronic commerce is more likely to enhance the retail shopping experience by furthering physical shops across the world through integrated mobile ecommerce and loyalty programs. While that’s an interesting viewpoint to have, I couldn’t help but present an input of my own…
The reason why people continue to prefer shopping at a physical retailer’s is because by observing the commodity firsthand, they receive the opportunity to evaluate it using all five senses, as opposed to a few two-dimensional images and a crafty sales pitch sticking out on a web page. Walking into a store of your preference, browsing through the huge collection of products from such a close perspective, picking them up and trying them out before purchase and having the salesman brief you on each and every item for sale, make for a much more fulfilling experience than scrolling down page after page of text and media. But what if the same experience could be achieved from the comfort of your home using virtual reality technology? That should at least turn a few tables, am I right?
If you are thinking that this is a thing for the future, think again. The virtual reality revolution may have started out with gaming, but since then, it has progressed very fast to a number of different industries, especially eCommerce. Ever since their entry into the eCommerce market, moguls like Amazon, eBay and Shopify have used everything from artificial intelligence to environment-friendly packaging in an effort to market themselves as the most technically advanced contender in the market. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to integrate virtual reality in an effort to deliver a more immersive shopping experience to customers, most of them jumped forward with great enthusiasm.
As early as April 2016, Shopify showcased some of its prototype virtual reality technologies in the yearly Unite Conference, besides opening up on the company’s visions regarding virtual reality commerce. In May, eBay announced its first ever virtual reality department store, released in association with Myer. In September, Shopify released its first virtual reality app for Windows, available for HTC Vibe headsets on Steam. I know that technologies are merely scratching the surface when it comes to delivering a full-fledged brick-and-mortar shopping experience from your couch, they might just have paved a way for something bigger and better.
While there is a certain amount of skepticism as to whether virtualized commerce will lead to any significant increase in proceedings over the years, researches conducted in the past few months have at least shown us that more consumers are likely to take up interest in online shopping if they were able to try out the products they desire virtually. This applies specifically to items such as clothing and furniture, which understandably tend to be more intimate to a customer than other commodities. While current technologies cannot possibly offer users with the same experience as actually trying out an item at a physical store, as virtual reality continues to grow more and more immersive with better graphics and controllability, the scenario is likely to improve much further. What’s your say?