Virtual Reality: Creating Immersive Shopping Experiences

Virtual Reality: Creating Immersive Shopping Experiences

Shopping in virtual reality is interactive and dynamic. And that turns shopping into an experience. Technological advances and an increasing acceptance of virtual reality make the idea of implementing it ever more attractive. And ecommerce in particular can benefit hugely from this development.

Table of contents:

  1. What is virtual reality?

  2. Virtual reality: Overview of hardware and software

  3. Examples of virtual reality applications

  4. Opportunities offered by VR in online and traditional retail

  5. Challenges when implementing virtual reality

  6. VR is the future trend in ecommerce

What is virtual reality?

The term “virtual reality” appeared for the first time in 1982, in the science fiction novel “Judas Mandala” by Damien Broderick. It was later added to the Oxford Dictionary. Over the last four decades, this literary idea has become a reality. Computer-generated environments are now a part of our daily lives. The introductions of various VR headsets were crucial milestones in the development of virtual reality. The Oculus Rift headset came on the market in 2012, followed in 2015 by Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR (both since discontinued). They helped ensure that VR development really took off and that things moved ahead in VR technology.

Unlike augmented reality (AR), virtual reality does not involve mixing in or superimposing virtual objects in real surroundings. In virtual reality (VR), users are completely immersed in a 3D world. Once they put on VR glasses, they can completely ignore their physical reality. So the virtual reality experience is an immersive one, which is why it’s also known as immersive reality. Here’s an example: Users are sitting in their living room, wearing VR glasses, and taking a virtual tour of a museum. This immersion gives them the feeling that they’re actually in the museum.

And what is collaborative VR? The concept of collaborative VR involves multiple people at different locations in the physical world. They meet as avatars in a VR environment and communicate using microphones, headsets, or chats. Use cases for collaborative virtual reality include business meetings.

Virtual reality: Overview of hardware and software

However, to dive into virtual worlds, developers and users need specific technologies, hardware, and software.

Software for the technical implementation of virtual reality

  • Software to generate the virtual world: VR developers use programs such as Maya, 3D Studio Max, Blender, SketchUp, Softimage XSI, Cinema 4D, and LightWave 3D to design and create three-dimensional virtual worlds.

  • Author software: To simulate a new reality and create 3D scenarios, you need software such as World Tool Kit or World Up. These systems make it easier to program interactions and movements in the VR world.

Hardware for users’ virtual reality experience

  • Virtual reality headset: So that VR feels as realistic as possible, users need headsets with highly developed display technologies and sensors to display the immersive environment.

  • Input/output devices: To interact in the virtual world, you’ll need input and output devices. These include VR controllers that enable users to control actions, but also treadmills, 3D mice, gloves, and suits to transport the user’s movements into the virtual world.

  • VR camera: Special cameras with a 360-degree view of the surroundings ensure that the visual experience really is immersive and the virtual reality experience is lifelike.

Examples of virtual reality applications

There are an extraordinary number of possible virtual reality applications, providing countless benefits for a wide range of sectors. Here are some areas where virtual reality will become even more important in the future:

  • Entertainment/gaming: VR promises a unique gaming experience. Players navigate the virtual world in the form of avatars. VR exercise equipment also provides entertaining ways to keep fit. If you’re running on the treadmill at home, you can simply add VR glasses and find yourself running virtually through the forest.

  • Culture and events: Thanks to VR, it’s possible to attend trade shows, concerts, and sports events virtually, or take a 360° tour of museums and virtual showrooms. This opens up new opportunities for virtual experiences and addresses new target groups.

  • Real estate and architecture: Interested parties can view show homes virtually, which saves travel time for agents and potential purchasers. It can also provide a realistic preview in advance of an in-person viewing. Architects can use VR to create realistic digital models of offices, hotels, or restaurants.

  • Education: VR generates realistic learning environments in educational establishments. Students and trainees can gain valuable experience by doing practical exercises in virtual classrooms.

  • Healthcare: In their medical studies, students practice medical procedures in a virtual environment – completely risk-free.

  • Industry and business: VR makes it easier to create prototypes rapidly and uses virtual storefronts for products. Employees can do practical training on machines or work together using collaborative VR.

  • Online and traditional retail: Virtual reality shopping offers customers a unique experience. When they go virtual clothes shopping, they can try on products digitally before buying.

Opportunities offered by VR in online and traditional retail

Virtual reality also opens up exciting options for your ecommerce business, with your products being presented, discovered, and experienced in new and exciting ways.

The VR shopping experience means unlimited purchasing, wherever you are.

Your customers around the world can look at 3D models of products in a virtual store online, perhaps in a virtual shopping center, without having to visit a physical location. Virtual shopping gives them the opportunity to view your products from all perspectives, or in different colors. Or they can try on clothes, shoes, or jewelry virtually to find the right size. When ordered articles fit and meet your customers’ expectations, you’ll see a drop in the number of returns and an increase in customer satisfaction.

Shopping is no longer a simple transaction, but becomes an exciting experience.

Interactive in-store experiences lead to more customer interaction in your physical store. When customers put on VR glasses, they can test drive a new vehicle at the car dealer’s, visit a fashion show at a clothes store, or identify the perfect walking boots by climbing a mountain at the shoe store. And all of it virtually! There’s also potential to save costs. Virtual shelves increase the range of products by offering similar products digitally, and at the same time reduce the amount of retail space required.

360° videos as an option for your online shop: Placing your products in a virtual environment allows you to present them to customers in their very best light. Potential purchasers don’t see your articles, they experience them. You can create a similar experience factor using 3D product visualization. Shopware’s “360 Degree Viewer” plugin allows you to create 360° product images for your store.

Challenges when implementing virtual reality

In spite of all the benefits, online merchants also face several hurdles when implementing VR. These are related to costs, complexity, possible data-protection and security considerations, plus the still-modest use of VR devices.

It can be expensive to purchase VR hardware, both for companies and for users and customers. And not everyone has a VR device yet. Nor is it an easy matter, technologically speaking, to create professional VR content, develop a computer-generated 3D environment, or implement VR solutions. This could be a barrier for some companies. On the other hand, you can already find software and platforms on the market, for example from Shopware, which make it easier to create 3D content. Another factor is that customers may be reluctant to share personal data, especially in a virtual environment. The processing of customer data for personalized interactions is subject to stringent data-protection requirements.

Regardless of these hurdles, the opportunities virtual reality offers online retail are highly promising: Continual advances in VR technology will drive hardware costs down in the long term. Planned sector standards will simplify implementation and thereby increase the availability of VR.

VR is the future trend in ecommerce

In time, virtual reality technology will become more widely accepted, as consumers recognize more opportunities and benefits. And the growing number of VR devices on the market will make the technology more accessible. The future certainly looks rosy. The user base is expected to grow considerably – which will help reduce the cost of VR technology.

The opportunity to experience products in 3D and test them interactively will transform the shopping experience. And VR will become an indispensable part of the purchasing process.