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Retail war turns virtual with simulated merchandise, digital warehouses

Imagine being able to click photos of an Egyptian pyramid moments after picking your new camera from the shelves of a store in New York. The pace at which retail firms are embracing technology indicates such a possibility would become commonplace very soon.

Virtual reality is the latest fad among department store operators, the technology that could revolutionize people’s shopping experience in a big way. It’s about giving customers a taste beforehand of how effective the product would be when used in real life. Ever since experiments with virtual reality in retail space started a couple of years ago, a lot of progress has been achieved in incorporating it into e-commerce. And, the result is the emergence of V-commerce.

For customers equipped with the VR viewer, items they intend to purchase will pop out of store shelves and float in the virtual space, flashing the relevant details. Those shopping online will be able to ‘interact’ with and ‘feel’ the product, thereby getting to know it in depth. The entire process allows shoppers to take an informed decision before zeroing in on a particular item. Keeping track of people’s shopping history and brand preferences in real-time, the system makes predictions with minimal error.

E-commerce is quickly giving way to the virtual — V-commerce

Apparently, retailers adopting the innovative technology are taking inspiration from the successful tie-up between eBay and Myer, an Australia-based department store operator, which gave birth to the world’s first VR-supported department store.

What makes virtual reality shopping more interesting is the dual benefit it offers – for both customers and companies. While ensuring shoppers’ convenience, VR also provides valuable feedback to shop managers on customer behavior, busy spots and the arrangement of merchandise.

Next time while exploring the sports car that caught your fancy, look forward to taking the test drive without having to step out of the showroom. Though it may sound like science fiction stuff, virtual changing rooms, selecting a holiday destination after taking a digital tour of the place, and hitting a virtual dance floor in the new party dress could all become a common thing for those who visit department stores.

Amazon robot Kiva at a warehouse. The next step is Virtual. (Courtesy: Amazon)

Now, it will be unjust to go any further without taking a peek into the affairs of the titan of online shopping. Amazon Go, the automated store launched recently, has made shopping so hassle-free for members that all they have to do is just pick grocery items and walk out of the store. The futuristic technology, a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality, keeps track of the purchases and settles bills online.

As expected, Walmart followed suit without much delay. This time, they went one step further and acquired an entire virtual reality start-up! Walmart expects to leverage the advanced VR design platform and multi-function toolset of Spatialand, which had earlier associated with the company for their Store No-8 technology incubator. The ‘immersive retail environments’ being created by the Spatialand team, for both in-store and online shopping, is designed do away with the conventional warehouse and facilitate the purchase and stocking of inventory digitally, thereby reducing cost.

Does the simulated store experience have a flip side to it? Well, the answer may differ from person to person. First of all, it takes away the joy of shopping in its true sense, for the marketplace is one of the few spaces left in the modern world where people get to interact with each other. Then, too much exposure to the digital space poses multiple threats – from identity theft to financial fraud. It will be wise to strike the right balance between online and offline, and ensure sufficient security before going all-digital.

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