After mobile shopping took off, e-commerce companies are now targeting virtual reality (VR) as the next venue for a new shopping boom.
But the companies experimenting with this form of shopping had a problem: to purchase a product, customers still have to take off the VR headset and go through the payment process.
What if there was a technology that will allow customers to seamlessly move from browsing to paying without taking off the headset?
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, eager to capture the latest online shopping technology, unveiled on Wednesday a system that can do exactly that – with a nod of the head.
"It is very boring to have to take off your goggles for payment. With this, you will never need to take out your phone," Lin Feng, who is in charge of Ant Financial’s F Lab that developed the payment system told Reuters.
This VR payment technology comes after another attempt in 2015 by Alibaba to conduct mobile payment through facial recognition technology, Reuter reports, advertised as "pay with a selfie." Many other brands and e-commerce firms are also experimenting with various ways of presenting items through VR, with varying strategies for different types of goods.
Jeff Booth, cofounder of BuildDirect, an online home improvement company wrote in Time.com that VR complements online shopping by giving it what it lacks relative to traditional shopping.
"Ultimately, these technologies come together to solve a fundamental challenge in e-commerce: integrating feeling – both physical and emotional – into the buying experience. In retail terms, it’s a case of back to the future, with next generation online sellers finding ways to restore old-school touch-and-try charm," Booth wrote.
Alibaba's payment system will allow users to verify their identity through account logins on connected devices or voice-recognition technology. There will be passwords required for authentication as well, and customers can input the characters either by head movements, touch or by "staring at a point on virtual display for longer than 15 seconds," Feng told Reuters.
The system is expected to be ready for commercial launch at the end of this year.
Another global e-commerce company, EBay, launched a virtual reality department store this May in Australia, in collaboration with retailer Myer.
"Does virtual reality mean you will shop for longer – will customers browse for longer?" Steve Brennen, senior director of marketing and retail innovation at eBay told Mashable Australia. "Is this the next future of the retail experience? We're kind of believing now that it could be."
The fashion industry is especially geared up to adopt this new technology, allowing consumers to shop from home or even try on the goods. Some fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Dior allow customers to experience runway shows through VR headsets at their stores.
The principle extends to other goods as well. For example, startup Cimagine developed an augmented reality tool that allows furniture shoppers to get a visualization of how their furniture purchases will look in their actual living space.
Similarly, home improvement stores in the US are starting to use the technology to help consumers visualize how a newly remodeled kitchen would look prior to installation, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Recently Microsoft partnered with Lowe’s to launch their HoloLens headset. The headset, which utilizes augmented reality to overlay virtual objects on a physical space, is rolling out now in Lowe’s stores as part of a design showroom to help customers envision the outcome of a potential home renovation.
Avenue Planet, a Miami-based company, created an app that allows users to virtually walk into 12 different famous shopping centers in the world and browse for items, as reported by CBS. The company also launched a payment system called APay where users can pay without leaving the VR world. The company plans to launch the app in December.