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Virtual Reality Will Change Online Shopping, Sooner than You Think

Two-thirds of consumers surveyed (66 percent) said they would be interested in virtual shopping, according to the Walker Sands 2015 Future of Retail Study. And the days of shopping using virtual reality may be closer than you think as technology from Oculus and Samsung is already available to developers and hobbyists.

Wired provides some background on the current state of virtual reality (VR), explaining how the Oculus Rift gained the attention of Facebook through a Kickstarter campaign, leading the social networking company to acquire the company for $2 billion a year ago.

Unlike Google Glasses, VR hardware come in the form of headsets not suitable for walking around while wearing. The Oculus Rift was designed for gaming, and that’s where the attention from developers is, but virtual reality shopping seems certain to follow.

Wired explains how the immersive experience of VR might appeal to shoppers. “You will soon be able to slip on a Rift and be instantly transported to a mall with a couple of girlfriends to do some clothes shopping. Everything you see is your size, and you can try outfits on an avatar that has your identical proportions. You can match items with an online inventory containing a copy of every item of clothing in your real-world closet. See how the skirt goes with the shoes you picked up last week with a click.”

And while The Verge notes how astounding it is that Samsung has started selling its Gear VR headset at Best Buy, it also makes it clear VR technology is not yet ready for the general consumer.

But it’s not just because of the early technology, or because of the price – the headset costs a remarkably low $199 (you also need Samsung’s Galaxy Note4 smartphone). Rather, it’s a lack of content.

Many consumers are open to the potential that VR brings to online shopping, with the Future of Retail survey revealing that nearly one-third of respondents (30 percent) said they would shop more online if they were able to try products on virtually. In fact, half (49 percent) of survey participants said they were interested in trying the Rift once it comes out this spring, and one-third said they would be interested in purchasing such a product (32 percent).

While virtual reality has the potential to increase ecommerce revenue, it may further hurt brick-and-mortar sales, according to the study. Twenty-two percent of consumers said they would be less likely to visit a physical store with the introduction of this technology.

It seems virtual reality technology will favor large retailers and brands, but will small merchants be left out in the cold? It seems like an area for marketplaces and ecommerce platforms to explore.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.