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Virtual Reality (VR) eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)

Written by David Bryan, June 8, 2016
IKEA Virtual Reality

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’s 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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