Online shopping and VR and AR

Virtual reality and augmented reality are bound to change the way we live our lives. That might seem like a radical statement, but evidence would suggest that it will actually happen much sooner than one might think. And one of the areas which augmented & virtual reality will revolutionize  is online shopping. But let’s start with the basics.

What is virtual reality (VR) and what is augmented reality (AR)?

To put it shortly, in virtual reality you are transported (usually via a headset) to a virtual world. Imagine being transported to top of the Mount Everest simply by butting virtual reality goggles on your eyes. Augmented reality (AR) on the other hand is a way to enhance the actual reality.  E.g. you put a headset on and a Mount Everest appears on your living room wall. 

​It is likely that in the future one device can be used for both virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, but at the moment separate products are needed for both.

The current leader in consumer virtual reality products is Oculus (owned by Facebook) and the currently leading product in augmented reality products is Hololens (owned by Microsoft). Neither of these are yet available for regular consumers, but both are expected to come out in either late 2015 or 2016. The people who have been able to try on prototype versions of either product have given them high praises.

Oculus headset.

Hololens headset

How will virtual reality and augmented reality impact e-commerce and online shopping?

For obvious reasons there are product categories that will be more impacted than others with the coming VR and AR revolutions.

For an example, imagine buying clothes online. One of the biggest problems customers have these days with buying clothing online is that they can’t actually know how the piece of clothing will look on them. And this leads to both the customers not ordering in the first to place and to high return-rates (which can really cause issues especially to the new online vendors). In the future customers will be able to have virtual avatars of themselves (in EXACTLY their body shape). And in the virtual-reality-optimized stores the customers will be able see how any piece of clothing would actually look on them, when they simply put their VR goggles on and choose a piece of clothing. This should both increase the amount of money people spend on shopping online and also allow the stores to sell clothes cheaper and with higher margins, as the returns will not be as big of a problem as they are today.

Clothing is an example of product category that will be heavily impacted by VR,  on the other hand likely the biggest product category to be impacted by augmented reality is​ furniture.

By nature furniture tends to be big and relatively expensive. Both of which can cause hesitance when it comes to buying it online. But imagine if you could put on your AR headset and see exactly how any piece of furniture would look like in it’s intended place? And how it would match with rest of the furniture. That should (and will) have a positive impact on online furniture sales.​

Obviously there are also product categories that might not get a massive boost from the wide-spread adoption of VR and AR. It is, for an example, hard to think of a ways that AR and VR could be used that would dramatically increase the sales of bodybuilding supplements. 

There will be winners and losers

As always when a new type of tech becomes widely used by e-commerce customers there will be those stores that will suffer and those that will flourish. Just imagine the impact that the smartphone or the tablet has had on online shopping. Just a few years ago it was really no-big-deal if you store wasn’t mobile-optimized. The days not having a mobile-optimized site can mean the difference between staying (and succeeding) in business and having to close down the store.