Aldo Agostinelli

Online sales, especially via smartphones, are increasing. In the last year, in the United States alone, mobile shopping has accounted for 10 billion dollars . However, direct, in-store purchases, which grant customers the opportunity to touch products with their hands, remain one of the crucial aspects of the shopping experience.

As a result, VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) have come into play with the aim of satisfying the needs of those who, before splashing out, want to physically check that the specific pair of shoes, the latest generation smart TV or the new sofa they are buying is exactly what they are after. Such technology is indeed leading to a sort of hybridization of online shopping and in-store shopping, promoting a revamping of retail and customer service.

The pioneer of such new virtual, interactive and immersive shopping experiences was eBay Australia. Last summer, in partnership with Myer, the giant of e-commerce opened its Virtual Reality Department Store. If you wish to shop in it you need to own a VR headset, such as the Samsung Gear VR, or the cheaper Google Cardboard, and install a free app, which can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play, on your smartphone. Once you have accessed the store, you can browse the products and take a closer look at any of them by just staring at the item you wish to check and “visually” selecting it.

At present, the VR-store contains about 13 thousand products, mostly in 2D and a few in 3D. But the ratio is bound to change pretty soon.

Another interesting development deriving from this merging of virtual and reality is the ability to visualize 3D graphic models of objects in a physical space. This is what the app named Augmented Furniture , developed by RealMore, can do. Compatible with iOS and Android mobile devices, it can be downloaded for free from the company website and it enables users to virtually locate a 1:1 scale representation of any piece of furniture inside a real room, so to give them the chance to design the whole furniture of such room and make more sensible choices in terms of volumes and space.

Context View by the Polish company Tylco, is conceptually similar but is operated differently. In order to use it, you are expected to place a special sheet of paper displaying the bar code of the desired item of furniture next to the area where you want to position it. Then you point your smartphone camera at the code and the selected object will be displayed on your phone screen.  Once you are ready to purchase, you can buy all products directly through the app.

And while on line retailers take pieces of reality into the virtual world, in-store sellers are introducing AR and VR into their shops. Designer Kenneth Cole has had touch-screen mirrors installed in the windows of his boutique, located on the corner between Bowery and Bond Street in New York, which allow customers to virtually try on his clothes 24/7. Moreover a dedicated app designed for on-demand shopping  promises to allow you to fix an appointment within three hours from the request, even at night.

In Hong Kong, by contrast, the American underwear retailer Rigby and Peller put a special mirror inside all its dressing rooms, which helps female customers selecting the most flattering bra for their silhouette. In the United States, more specifically in San Francisco, the Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo has long been using “virtual dressing rooms”. We are talking about a touch screen which, thanks to augmented reality, allows customers to virtually try on all the available color variants of each item without having to waste time for doing it physically.

What do you think about such new shopping experiences exploiting VR and AR?
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Aldo Agostinelli