The future of Virtual Reality and Ecommerce

Facebook (Oculus Rift), Samsung, Sony, Google and HTC are some of the larger players in the emerging Virtual Reality (VR) space. And while Apple has not jumped into the arena yet, the participation of these well-known brands should be enough to warrant your attention.

Wed Sep 20 12:54:00 EDT 2017
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While most VR applications are games and educational apps for kids, leading eCommerce solution providers like Shopify, X-Cart and eBay are looking at the VR space with interest too. These companies are taking the first steps towards Virtual Reality in online retail and developing storefronts optimized for VR-glasses and helmets using the WebVR technology.

With WebVR you can enable Virtual Reality applications on the web by allowing pages to do the following:

  • Detect available Virtual Reality devices.
  • Query the devices capabilities.
  • Poll the device’s position and orientation.
  • Display imagery on the device at the appropriate frame rate.

Simply put, WebVR lets you create Virtual Reality web sites that you can view in a VR headset.

The real question for ecommerce merchants is how could this affect your industry over next five years and how can your company be leaders in this emerging technology? We doubt if an average ecommerce retailer should invest a great deal of money into a VR showroom right now. At X-Cart, our suggestion is to wait a bit longer to ride the wave. However, with such an exciting new technology, it might be worthwhile to dip your toe in the water and try this new ecommerce experience. Aren’t you curious as to what this new experience could be? Below are a few tips and tricks to get started.

To begin, your customer will need a VR headset.

The VR hardware offer on the market is currently represented by 2 segments:

  • Built-in display headsets (Oculus Rift, Sony Playstation VR, HTC Vive)
  • VR-ready smartphones (see Google Daydream) that use Google Cardboard or other analogue tools as a more rudimentary headset.

The first group is rather expensive (about $400) and a bit cumbersome, and they are used mainly by gamers. The second segment can be purchased for $10 - $100, and is much more likely to become a mass consumer product.

On the ecommerce merchant side, you need a VR storefront. There are different ways to implement one, and I would categorize them into 3 groups:

01.  Full 3D (like a FPS game)
Environment (showroom): WebGL 3D
Goods: WebGL 3D
Pros:  One can move in a showroom, like in a real-world store
Cons: Expensive, due to a large volume of 3D modelling required
Best for: Stores with relatively low number of products, with these products looking best as 3d models.
Examples: X-Cart WebVR

02.  Pseudo-3D (like Google streets)
Environment (showroom): 360-degree video or 360-degree spherical images, between which the user can move freely.
Goods: 2D-images, stereoscopic images or WebGL 3D models.
Pros: Relatively quick and easy implementation
Cons: It’s really pseudo-3D
Best for: Real-world stores that want to start selling via VR.
Example: West Marine Store

03.  Abstract
Environment (showroom): 2D or 3D abstract browser of products and categories
Goods: 2D-images, stereoscopic images or WebGL 3D models
Pros: Universal solution that supports automatic deployment based on any existing online store in its classical realisation
Cons: The picture is not real-world like
Example: Ebay

What about a live demo?

The X-Cart team developed a full 3D demo that was tested by IRCE 2017 attendees. It’s still available, so if you have HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, or if have a gamer friend who can lend you theirs, you can see see it on web now.

examples of VR use

Conclusions

VR-commerce technology might seem pretty nerdy. Yet we have already witnessed how quickly the push-button mobile telephones faded to touch-screen smartphones. Who knows how much time it will really take for VR to replace the top technology of our days. 

And while a native application for a VR storefront might not be the smartest investment right now, a WebVR based skin is a great start for ecommerce merchants to test this promising new technology. 

About the author

Yury Zaytsev is Co-founder of X-Cart. He is an enthusiast, inspirer and product manager of the VR in eCommerce project. Find him on Facebook and LinkedIn.