At Facebook’s F8 conference, there was a lot of talk about augmented reality and how it may be used in the future to provide a shopping experience.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are cousins, but slightly different technologies.
aug·men·ted re·al·i·ty | noun | a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.
vir·tu·al re·al·i·ty | noun | the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
IKEA TOYING WITH VIRTUAL REALITY CATALOG
Last month, Ikea in Australia debut a virtual reality store. They even offer the ability to add some items to your Shopping List and checkout online.
This VR store implementation is the first major big box retailer experimenting with this technology. If this will go system-wide is not known, and there is still a lot to improve. However, considering this is working and allowing customers to make real purchases is pretty impressive.
Ikea is an ideal candidate for virtual reality stores.
The retail footprint of their stores requires a significant piece of real estate in an urban environment. This technology allows them to offer a “store experience” for people who do not live near an Ikea store.
Also, eCommerce for furniture and appliance products is still a major problem for many online stores as customers like to touch and feel the product.
A VR store may not be the same experience as physically touching the product, but it can provide a lot more three-dimensional information that may help shoppers make up their mind.
ALIBABA BUY+ IS VIRTUAL REALITY SHOPPING
At last year’s TMall 11/11 Global Shopping Festival, Alibaba and HTC demonstrated Buy+. The Buy+ platform is powered with VR-ready HTC smartphones and HTC mobile virtual reality store Viveport M.
However, when it launched, Alibaba made the VR platform available without requiring the high-end HTC equipment used in the demo. You can now browse and purchase products on Buy+ using a cardboard VR set and an average smartphone.
This experience fits very well into the Chinese concept of shopping that is interactive, entertaining, and social.
Buy+ is integrated with Alipay. With a nod, the shopper makes the payment without the need to remove the headset to check out.
ECHO LOOK IS AMAZON’S FIRST DIP INTO AUGMENTED REALITY
The company is believed to be experimenting with all kinds of ideas using augmented and virtual reality. It is not a matter of if but when these ideas come to life.
The Echo Look is already the first step in that direction, and it will not be the last.
TECHNOLOGY WITHIN REACH OF SMALL BUSINESSES
Numerous start-ups are working on implementations of VR for the average small business.
One of the more intriguing ones is Gatsby. They are developing a virtual reality shopping center (marketplace) for home products.
The company will work with you to 3D scan your products and deploy your branded store on their platform. Because there is a fair amount of work required to start, the onboarding costs on a per item basis are higher than a typical eCommerce or marketplace implementation.
However, if Gatsby can get their platform up and running as promised by fall of 2017, this is a marketplace to watch.
AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY SHOPPING IS THE NEXT BIG WAVE IN ECOMMERCE
There is no doubt that augmented or virtual shopping is the next big thing in eCommerce. What small businesses have to consider is how they will be part of this future.
It is unlikely going to be as simple as opening up a Magento or WooCommerce store. This type of shopping experience will require computing power and technology infrastructure that is not standard fare for a web hosting company.
SaaS platforms such as BigCommerce or Shopify may gain much advantage as they would be able to implement the technology necessary to power such VR stores. Could one of these players buy a platform like Gatsby to move quickly into this space?
The other obvious implementation maybe through marketplaces. One can assume that Amazon would eventually make such technology available to marketplace sellers after a trial period with their products.
However, is eBay going to jump into this field? Do they have a choice?
One thing is sure, the next five years in eCommerce are going to be very interesting as we might see major shifts in how people shop for products.
Consumer VR gear is also just in their beginning stages with lots of development work in progress to make them better and smaller.
Surely cardboard gear with smartphones is not the future?
Let’s hope we will look at VR Goggles and cardboard gear and laugh about them the same way we now look back at the original mobile phone.