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How To Use Virtual Reality To Enhance the Shopping Experience

By Computop

By Ralf Gladis - CEO at Computop

Even in its infancy, virtual reality making an impact on online retail. The question of how to use virtual reality in ecommerce will be one that many struggle to answer. This article will look at a few examples to show how of VR can fit in to your retail proposition.

Once again, tech gadgets were top of the table when it came to Christmas gifts last year. Over the Christmas 2015 period it was the Apple Watch that dominated wish lists, paving the mass adoption for contactless payments through Apple Pay. However, this was the year that virtual reality headsets took pride of place.

While we’re still waiting for the final figures to be published, just before Christmas, analyst Paul Lee of Deloitte UK was quoted as saying he expected sales of high-end VR headsets including Facebook's Oculus Rift and Sony's PlayStation VR headset to reach about 300,000 over the Christmas period.

That’s high-end, though. Headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR are all popular but come with a princely price tag. They are bought and used mostly by enthusiastic gamers.

However, in recent months we’ve also seen product launches for a range of more affordable VR gadgets, as smartphones become capable of virtual displays. For instance, there’s the new Samsung Gear and the Carl Zeiss VR One Plus, both with price points not far from £50.

2017 is shaping up to be the year that virtual reality becomes affordable and available to the masses, rather than just the gaming elite.

Now that this shiny new electronic world is within reach of a wider audience, big business is wising up and looking for ways to capitalise on the sales opportunity. While the media mostly covers virtual reality from an entertainment perspective, trade sectors are already taking a wider view.

The leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors are all looking for opportunities in virtual reality shopping. They will commoditise virtual worlds with virtual shop shelves and 3D product views.

Virtual reality shopping today

China’s ecommerce giant Alibaba is ahead of the game. Its financial division recently demonstrated a payment service that works hand in hand with virtual reality shopping.  

Expected to be launched by the end of this year, VR Pay, as the service is called, will allow virtual reality shoppers to browse through VR shops and malls, and pay for things simply by nodding their head. There’s no need to remove the headset and reach for their cards.

Shopping identity will be able to be verified through authenticated account logins on connected devices with passwords, or using voice identification technology designed to recognise unique voice patterns of a person.

The opportunity 

So, virtual reality is no longer the stuff of 90s sci-fi movies. These technologies can provide real opportunities for online shopping, and bring visual representations of goods more in line with their physical reality.

That’s a plus for mail-order and ecommerce companies. For instance, at its most basic level, wearing their 3D glasses, a customer can simply walk around a mannequin in an online store.  They can inspect a garment in detail, from all sides.  

However, there’s much more to offer than simply that. For instance, if a customer is refurbishing their home and can‘t quite picture how a new armchair will look in their living room, they can simply upload a photo of the room. The rendered environment will then select the right colours and virtually add the new furniture to the room. Voila.

Applications like these open up new possibilities for online purchases, but also present new challenges at the checkout: entering billing and delivery addresses is far from plain sailing in a virtual space, and media disruptions are to be expected. Straightforward navigation and easy shopping also call for simplified payment processes.

One-click potential

The integration of one-click checkouts seems perfectly suited to the virtual shopping experience. Payment with wallets such as Amazon Payments, MasterPass, or PayPal Express are intended to enable payment with one-click, which includes importing billing and delivery addresses.

This is why one-click buttons are becoming more and more prevalent. By positioning them in the shopping cart or even at item level, innovative payment schemes are hoping to appear on the screen as early as possible in the payment process and stay one step ahead of other payment schemes. And at the same time, the customer benefits as the payment process becomes easier for them.

By clicking once on Amazon Payments, MasterPass or PayPal Express, customers avoid the laborious process of entering large amounts of data, as their address and preferred payment method, including card number, are already stored there.

Shopping in a virtual environment where the push of a button or the nod of a head will suffice for authorisation is simply the next step on from this.

Current applications

This might seem like a giant step for industry and consumers. However, many of the more innovative retail outlets have long been seeking opportunities for digital enhancement.

Many already use virtual reality bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar shop and online shopping High Street stores such as Monsoon and Accessorize already offer their customers the option of ordering items they do not have in the store via tablet on the shop floor.

With no queuing at an order desk or the checkout, this can be done at the customer’s leisure. Other retailers offer the service in a seated area next to the changing room, payment included, with tea and coffee.

I don’t believe it will be long before we see this variant of online shopping offered in the changing room itself. The customer will be able to use their virtual reality headset to view a 3D representation of a freshly ironed summer collection, while the slightly crumpled, genuine article lies limply next to them on floor.

Some things to remember for your virtual reality shop

The multichannel virtual payment experience can work, as long as the processes are cleverly coordinated. They need to be straightforward, frictionless, and secure for customers and merchants alike. Merchants need to make the investment in devices and apps for virtual rooms that provide security through tokenisation and encryption.

Real world card payments require secure payment handling with P2PE (point-to-point encryption) certified POS terminals, which have been developed to meet today’s data security requirements even on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Merchants will also need to adapt logistically.

If a business wants to attract customers to the store for online shopping, they must also be prepared to deal with the customer wanting to exchange items in store that were delivered to their home.

In order to help bridge this gap and process these cross-channel payments, payment service providers are reorganising themselves.

PCI P2PE secure connections between the point-of-sale terminal and the payment service provider are key to preventing fraud, and free the merchant from the costly responsibility of running PCI security audits. They are consolidating payment methods.  Standardised reconciliation files across all methods makes bookkeeping easier.

Uniform reporting of all transactions gives management an overview of all sectors of their trading operations and enables them to react swiftly to changes in sales and demand, in the real world, with or without glasses.

The new normal

Whether you’re a fan of virtual reality or not, it’s clearly that’s it’s by no means simply the stuff of movies. It will become a new sales channel. Businesses, and the payments ecosystem supporting them, must transform in order to offer safe and easy-to-use virtual reality shopping experiences for customers. 

As Brian Shuster, one of the initial pioneers of the internet recently said, ‘VR is arriving, and VR will not remain in the virtual realm for very long. Very soon, the difference between what is real and what is virtual will be a question whose answer will solely depend on your philosophical outlook; but in the real world, virtual reality will become more real than reality ever was.’