vCommerce: Virtual Reality (VR) eCommerce – The Future of Online Shopping

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Two years ago, we first wrote our blog post titled ‘Virtual Reality (VR) eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)?’. In our 2019 update, we explore the current state of VR and its connection to eCommerce. We will look at the original post to see whether the information still holds true, and comment on whether the VR, vCommerce and eCommerce landscape has changed. If so, how has it changed.

Editor’s Note: Our original post was created in June 2016 and we wanted to take another look at the topic and give readers an updated opinion on where things stand when it comes to VR and its place within eCommerce and online shopping.

Where are we currently with VR and vCommerce?

Adoption and business utilisation

In our original blog post, we tried to predict what vCommerce would look like in terms of its implementation and how businesses (if any) would take a leap and integrate these types of experiences in the coming years. Enough time has passed to allow us to not only guess but analyse how these services have been integrated into their customer experience in recent years.

In one of our recently blogs discussing VR and its business uses, we touched on how IKEA have been utilising VR allowing customers to browse products as if they were in a physical store. Customers can inspect items, add to a virtual basket as well as see pricing information. This is obviously the tip of the iceberg for VR and it is great to see some big names taking the leap to utilise these new technologies.

In addition to this, in the same blog we talked about Audi and how they are utilising VR to make things possible that simple couldn’t be done in a physical showroom therefor surpassing the physical customer experience, not just trying to provide a comparable service by using VR technology.

So, we currently are at a point in time where VR and its business use is still a very new concept, but VR headsets have been in peoples hands (or on their heads rather) for some time now. We are slowly starting to see businesses seeing the potential and once a few big names make the leap, others will surely follow. It’s clear to see that AR and VR aren’t just gimmicks but are important technologies with real benefit to the customer experience and selling process that simply can’t be found anywhere else.

Ease of integration into eCommerce

A lot of businesses are seeing the potential and are willing to get onboard, but it can seem confusing about how to create a VR experience and get everything working together. Depending on the way you want to create an experience in VR, it’s not something you can easily set up yourself. It can involve a lot of initial website work in addition to using hardware such as 360° cameras.

Further down the line we think there will be numerous services created to make it easier to create your own VR experiences to integrate into eCommerce but currently those options are limited. The best thing you can do as a business is identify how VR can benefit customers and improve your selling process, create a plan and then hire a team of specialists to help you realise that vision.

The great thing about 360 video and VR is that it doesn’t just benefit users with headsets. If you are looking to create a virtual environment by capturing video footage, this can be interacted with by using the click and drag method on a normal PC. An example of this can be seen and interacted with below while using Google Chrome.

Obstacles that are stunting VR’s business adoption rate

Currently, we aren’t particularly limited by the hardware in terms of factors that are holding back VR from playing a big role in eCommerce. The main factor holding VR back is that its still a relatively new concept and technology and can be quite expensive not only to implement but to test. No doubt new hardware improvements will allow a vastly superior experience when its comes to higher resolution displays, but what use is that is integrating an experience is so difficult?

The biggest bottleneck that will need to be overcome is the actual ease of integration regarding tools allowing implementation into popular eCommerce websites / CMS. We need to see a set of user-friendly tools that are well made that users can choose from pre-set templates and upload basic assets such as images or posters that customers browsing a VR store can use to identify products. It’s not exactly the VR experience that is going to blow customers away, but it’s a step in the right direction and something that could be utilised without hiring a huge team – just something that integrates with eCommerce CMS to allow business owners to get their feet wet with integrating VR into their strategy.

Another factor is pricing. Currently in terms of the main two players HTC/Valve and Oculus, prices are still too high for those casually interested in VR to get onboard. Thankfully we are currently starting to see different businesses pushing VR experiences that are very cheap. Clever ideas such as using your mobile phone as a VR headset and even some games consoles. Although this isn’t exactly going to help the business adoption rate, its helping introduce VR to audiences that haven’t yet experienced it helping the install base to grow, and understand over VR experiences to increase.

The future of vCommerce, 2019 and beyond

So in terms of creating a very basic VR experience, as mentioned previously, I feel that we need better tools to be able to integrate a VR experience into eCommerce websites by simply having premade ‘store templates’ where textures and even objects can be replaced with your own items with pricing data. This would just be a basic starting point but it would make things so much easier for businesses removing the need to hire a company to record 360 video and then a web design company to install a bespoke solution that works with your VR experience.

It’s reasonable to expect some of the big CMS to start adding tools to allow businesses to easily create their own VR experiences for customers in the coming months and years but until then, businesses are somewhat limited in how they can get something like this in place for a reasonable price.

In terms of progression and improvement, its inevitable in my opinion. The experience for customers is just too convenient and solves a lot of problems.

Already we see many people take the websites like eBay and Amazon to avoid the crowds of people on the high street. We do still have certain people that understandably want to see the problems they’re buying in front of them. VR will help pull some of those users back into eCommerce buying processes rather than having to arrive in person removing the stress of travelling, parking, queuing and all of the typical complains that come with the traditional retail buying process. Also as we touched on in one of our previous blogs, VR can offer a retail experience to those with disabilities that are otherwise unable to make it to physical stores to browse for products.

We are starting to see services like the Sixense vCommerce Virtual Reality platform which looks very impressive as you can see in a concept video uploaded to YouTube:

Again, if one of the big eCommerce platforms acquired this company and integrated It into their existing well-established CMS with a few basic templates, the adoption rates of VR utilisation for business selling online would skyrocket in my opinion.

It will be interesting to take another look at the VR and vCommerce landscape as we approach 2020 when the install base has grown larger and VR is seen as a viable option for owners of webstores all over the world.

Editor’s Note: Our original post was created in June 2016 and we wanted to take another look at the topic and give readers an update in regards to how VR has been utilised by businesses, and how things look for the future of vCommerce.

— 2016 article ‘Virtual Reality (VR) eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)’  —

In our last article we explored VR website design and digital marketing; however we would be amiss if we didn’t also discuss eCommerce and online shopping.

This article is part of our series of articles below on “VR for business”:

  1. The History, Rise & Fall of Virtual Reality
  2. Has Oculus Lost the First Generation of Virtual Reality to HTC
  3. How Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality
  4. Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality & the Applications for Business
  5. Open Source Virtual Reality and What This Means for Business
  6. Virtual Reality Web Design; Why Every Business Will Need to Factor VR into Their Digital Marketing
  7. Virtual Reality eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)
  8. The Lowdown from Our VR Gurus, Rob and Adam

We would love to encourage some discussion and debate around where this interesting and game-changing technology is heading, so please feel free to leave us a comment below or on social media and we’ll get back to you.

What is eCommerce?

eCommerce, quite simply, is the buying and selling of products or services over the internet. It’s something that we use nearly every single day, and roughly 85% of the world’s population shop online. It was first born as a concept in the 1970s, but it wasn’t really until the mid-nineties to 2000s that it became a real influence on the internet. Now, it seems we’re witnessing yet another digital revolution with what is being dubbed ‘vCommerce’.

eCommerce has dramatically changed our lives, making everything easier, simpler and smoother. Virtual reality brings a new level of connectivity and ease with it, and the possibilities of combining it with eCommerce to create vCommerce could be endless. So just what does the future of eCommerce look like with virtual reality?

Does eCommerce need virtual reality?

We’ve all heard the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and is the eCommerce platform really in need of fixing? It has certainly transformed our lives; we no longer need to move from our sofas to purchase new clothes, furniture, a car or even a new house online with a few taps of the keyboard. Online streaming services like Netflix (which by the way is available in VR), meant that stores that would seemingly last forever, like Blockbuster, have now closed their doors permanently. The power that eCommerce has can’t be understated.

Despite this, 85% of consumers still much prefer to shop in a physical store, with 85% citing that they want to touch and feel a product before they purchase it. Even popular, household name brands like Amazon can’t seem to change this, with 71% of people saying they would rather visit a physical Amazon store. And yet, as we said earlier, 85% of the world’s population shop online.

The statistics don’t seem to add up here, and the only explanation can be that eCommerce makes things easier, but still isn’t the perfect solution. We’d rather see a product in the flesh, but it’s easier to order it online and then return it if we don’t like it. This free returns policy is costing businesses $1 trillion worldwide, so as revolutionary as eCommerce is, it still needs some fixing.

Could vCommerce change this?

It would certainly seem so. If 85% of people wish to view and touch a product before they buy it, virtual reality more or less solves people’s main concern with shopping online. Of course, it’s still not the real thing, but consumers simply don’t have the time to visit the shops every week, hence the reason we all still shop online even though we’d rather go to the physical shop. Viewing a product in virtual reality marks a huge improvement to how we currently view products online; simply scrolling through 2D pictures and making sure it has enough positive reviews to its name.

In short, we believe that eCommerce does need virtual reality. Everything works perfectly, and no-one wants change until the next big thing comes along. Consumers were happy with VHR until the DVD was invented. There wasn’t any point in changing the DVD was there? Until Blu-ray was introduced which produced much crisper pictures, and suddenly people couldn’t imagine having to watch a film using a DVD again. It’s much the same with eCommerce; it has a few cracks that need filling in, and we believe virtual reality, or vCommerce, offers that solution.

More than a third of consumers have said that they would browse more products online if they were able to try them using virtual headsets, and 63% have said that they believe this technology will affect their shopping experience in the future. Clearly, consumers also believe that eCommerce needs virtual reality technology as well.

What would vCommerce look like?

It could be as simple as allowing consumers to view each product in virtual reality. They could get a much better feel of the item; its shape, colour, and size. In some instances, it offers the perfect solution, such as when IKEA allowed users to virtually furnish their room. Granted, this was done using augmented reality, but it shows how beneficial alternative realties can be for businesses.

IKEA Virtual Reality

IKEA’s virtual reality – credit: Inhabitat

Companies could go one step further and completely recreate their physical store online for consumers to walk and browse around. Of course, consumers would know that they’re in a virtual environment, but they’d essentially be visiting the actual store, just from their living room.

It’s an exciting concept, and it’s expected that the vCommerce application industry will reach $14.07 billion by 2020, growing at an annual rate of 96.9%. These statistics come from a survey by MarketsandMarkets, who also found that the return rate of items has dropped by more than 23% since companies began to adopt virtual and augmented reality technology.

vCommerce won’t replace eCommerce

vCommerce isn’t about replacing eCommerce, web shopping or mobile shopping; it’s simply about adding a new layer to it. If you’re trying to order your groceries online, do you need to put on your headset and check the size of your bananas? Of course not. But are you looking to completely refurbish your living room from top to bottom? If yes, then vCommerce offers the perfect solution; you can virtually refurbish your living room while still standing in it.

Amazon has issued a number of patents for holo rooms and virtual product tracking, so it’s clear that the big eCommerce sites know which way the future of eCommerce is heading. Below we can see an example of a virtual reality shopping experience from Sixense:

The future of eCommerce

We’ve got eCommerce, mCommerce (mobile) and tCommerce (smart TVs), all of which work perfectly in conjunction. Soon we’ll have vCommerce, which as we have said, will complement these previous commerces rather than replace them. It will offer businesses a new way to connect and market to their customers, and will ensure that consumers know exactly what they are getting, creating a new level of transparency.

Sam Sisakhti, founder and CEO of UsTrendy, supports this notion when he said “there is a strong possibility that vCommerce can be the next step in the evolutionary change of commerce. In all likelihood, I think that vCommerce will actually compliment eCommerce by providing an even better virtual shopping experience.”

vCommerce web design

However, most businesses are not yet ready for this change, and it is definitely going to be more of a long-term investment. Once the big name eCommerce brands begin to adopt this into their marketing strategies, it is likely that this will create a wave of companies looking for virtual reality website design (vCommerce websites). For now, it’s very much in it’s experimental stage.

Two of our gurus, Rob and Adam, agree with this and have said that as it stands there simply isn’t the platform to support proper vCommerce solutions. They did however, say that “it won’t be long before your room can be transformed into an eCommerce store” but that until there is the software and technology available, “it’s difficult to offer solutions.”

Here at Opace, we’re certainly getting ready for the introduction of vCommerce and have already begun looking into ways to implement it into our web design packages. It will offer clients new ways to connect with their customers and will enhance a user’s shopping experience. While it may seem complicated to implement and difficult to do, with open source virtual reality platforms there will be some of the best and brightest minds in virtual reality ensuring that we will have solid vCommerce web design may come sooner than many think. And the companies that adopt this early on will find themselves edging ahead of their competitors.

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