Virtual reality isn’t the next big thing; it’s now. As soon as you strap your headset, you’re transported to a world where limits become obsolete. It’s an immersive experience where you enter an alternate reality populated by ones and zeroes, pixels and the imaginary.

More than that, it’s a new way to consume products. By offering the convenience of shopping from home and the benefits of an in-store visit, virtual shopping presents an opportunity for both retailers and shoppers. Retailers bypass spending valuable capital on real-estate, instead investing it in a virtual shop that requires less upkeep and runs 24/7, and shoppers experience a product without leaving the comfort of their home.

The Reality of Virtual Shopping

If in-store shopping lets you see and experience products first-hand, and online shopping opens up an avenue of ease and comfort, then virtual shopping combines the best of both worlds in an amalgamation perfect for the eCommerce world we live in.

It’s an enhancement that lets you experience shopping without the hustle and bustle of crowded malls and shops. It offers close-up inspections and bird’s eye views we wouldn’t have in-store. And like augmented reality, it gives us a firsthand experience of the products we want to buy with immersive views and life-size displays to match.

Virtual Reality Shopping
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It all comes down to mimicking the experience of physically walking through a shop and seeing products lined up side-by-side, just like their real-life counterparts. It also improves on one of the most bothersome aspects of shopping: lines; lines are a thing of the past in a place where the only shopper is you, and as we’ll soon see, a place where the only requirement for a purchase is to nod.

Alibaba and Buy+, the Virtual Mall

Alibaba, the online retail giant, didn’t hold back with their Single’s Day celebration last year. The event, a day that celebrates being single with shopping, deals, and more shopping, ended up raking in more money than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, and showcased Buy+ as a new way for shoppers to browse products in a virtual ‘mall.’

Buy+ is essentially a way for retailers to reach a wide audience and consumers to browse and shop in real-time. The best part? It’s all virtual — just insert your smartphone into a VR headset, strap it in, and start shopping. As for the VR headset, nothing fancy; you can use Google Cardboard or one of the many headsets that cost less than $10.

Buy+As soon as you’re inside the ‘mall,’ you’ll come across an array of items marked with blue dots. If you’re interested in an item, stare at it and watch it come to life in a virtual showcase. It’ll pop up, do a few spins, and because Buy+ is integrated with Alipay — Alibaba’s online payment platform — you can actually make a purchase by nodding your head. Easy, simple, and right out of our childhood’s science fiction dreams.

A Walk Through IKEA

Similar to Alibaba, IKEA took a virtual route (literally if you’re familiar with IKEA’s floorplans) when creating the IKEA Virtual Store. Available to ACT, TAS, QLD and NT residents in Australia, the store lets users ‘walk,’ browse and shop without moving a single foot.

As Malcolm Haylett, IKEA Australia Multichannel Specialist, said, “The IKEA Virtual Reality store has been developed to support our online shopping service. We know that it’s important for customers to see and experience our home furnishings range. IKEA has recently made a move towards online retailing, but we want to offer the full IKEA store experience to our online shoppers.”

IKEA Virtual Store

Final Thoughts

As a consumer, Alibaba and IKEA show us that instead of shopping online and hoping that ‘it’ looks as good in real life as it does in your computer screen, and instead of commuting to a store or mall and hoping that it’ll be in stock, all you have to do is tap a few buttons, strap yourself in, and enter a virtual store. As a retailer, the success and popularity of these virtual reality campaigns show us that pairing your virtual store or mall with virtual advertising can increase your revenue as countless consumers flock to your store.

The gist is that the world is changing, has changed, and will continue to change in a virtual path. So consumer or retailer, be prepared for the virtual reality of shopping.