virtual reality shopping experience

For online shoppers, virtual reality can help sway their decision

A new study shows that using VR in an online store, can persuade buyers to help them feel more sure about their purchase.

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Shopping online is big business, growing bigger still — expected to hit more than $600 billion, or nearly 11 percent of total retail sales, in 2019, according to eMarketer. Yet, while many of us are fine buying a smartphone or a box of pretzels online, there are things we just want to have in our hands, or at least get a sense of their scale, size and presence. That hesitancy is behind a 2019 study on virtual reality, looking to see if the technology could help reduce the concern buyers may feel when staring at a picture on a screen.

A VR shopping experience could take place at home and in a storeiStock

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The researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Stuttgart University in Germany, ran three studies using new floors as their test. Students randomly selected from the University of Germany were told they could buy a floor covering, with one group looking at pictures on a computer screen. The second group, however, was able to virtually walk around a showroom and on the floor.

Another test added a social element — people looking at VR imagery were also able to hear someone else talking while they were also looking at a product. Shopping in a real-world setting is often social — there are people typically in a store, and certainly a sales person.

All the studies pointed to VR as "a useful tool," in the end — and a way to help give people more of a sense of a place — or SoP as the study notes. Ultimately, researchers found that VR helped reduce the risk of someone feels when looking at a product on a screen and wondering how it may work.

"The results of three empirical studies affirm the importance of a VR display to reduce uncertainties regarding the products in online shops and outline techniques how to trigger the SoP," they wrote.

A photo of an checkout process in virtual realityVR may enhance online shopping, giving people a better sense of a productiStock

VR as a sales tool

Companies are playing with using VR and also augmented reality (AR) in stores and also online. Macy's stores across the country lets people put on VR headsets and check out how furniture might look in a virtual room. Walmart is also eyeing VR stores people could visit — but from home.

AR tends to be more of an entertainment factor, whether that's Jack Daniel's using the tech to create pop-up stories from its bottles, or Nike using AR to sell shoes.

VR, however, can be more immersive, dropping someone fully into a virtual space. And researchers note that the technology may also benefit shopping in real life — not just online. Letting a second person share in the experience — both in the virtual space seeing the same pair of shoes, set of dishes or a lamp — could also make a shopping experience feel more real and make it easier to make a purchase. But they noted that in the end, having a real object in hand is still going to be the best way to know whether you want to buy something or not.

"The shown applications demonstrate a huge potential to use VR applications in order to reduce the perceived risk while shopping online," they wrote. "Nevertheless, we conclude that VR displays cannot replace a real-world shopping experience."

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