Using Tech to Change the Shopping Experience

couch on computer screen

When was the last time you went shopping? Really think about it. What did you buy? How long did it take you to make a purchase? Are you satisfied with what you bought?

Raizlabs recently competed in Virtual2Reality Innovation Challenge powered by Discover Global Network, which challenged teams to create a secure shopping experience. A team of developers and a designer partnered up to build an imaginative virtual reality shopping experience. Participating in such a fast-paced innovative event still gave us time to pause to consider all of the changes the retail world has undergone due to technology.

Let’s think back to when online shopping was new and emerging–the mid-1990’s. Since then, the online shopping experience has gone through several iterations. Consumers are no longer perplexed by online shopping platforms and the concept of putting items in a virtual cart to purchase. In fact, according to Fortune, 51% of shoppers make their purchases online. The goal of many online retailers used to be to recreate an in-store experience via the web. Years, later, the online experience is changing once again with voice technology and virtual reality.

When you use a voice technology system like Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home, you can program the technology via machine learning. For example, you can be walking around your kitchen, notice you’re low on paper towels and say to your Amazon Echo, “Ok Alexa, how much are paper towels?” If Alexa answers you with a reply that satisfies what you need, you can say “Ok, Alexa. Add to my cart.” You can perform similar functions with Google Home or Microsoft Cortana. You can incorporate how you’re interacting with your surroundings at home with what you would typically purchase.

While retailers are already considering the effect Echo and Home have on their products and the buying experience, retailers are now beginning to alter the shopping experience with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) as well. These two technologies do differ: Augmented Reality is using something that is already there and overlaying a possibility. Think of the line that is used in football games to show viewers at home where the next down may be, or how Wayfair’s shopping app allows users to see what furniture may look like in their homes at scale. Virtual Reality on the other hand is a completely fantastical experience, like when a user is able to wear a headset and feel like they themselves are a 3D component of a video game, or when a doctor uses a headset to undergo 3D training.  Both technologies are poised to change ecommerce.

This could entirely change the way we shop. Amazon started with books. If consumers don’t want to leave their homes to buy something as small as a textbook, what’s to say that we couldn’t assume the same of hundreds (if not thousands) of other products? Virtual and Augmented Reality have the opportunity to entirely alter the experience a shopper has with a product. Instead of buying a product online with a click of the mouse, imagine if you could hold a bag with your hands or see the scale of a couch in your living room before you commit to making a purchase. Buyer’s remorse would be decreased. Criteo’s Ovum The Future of E-commerce: The Road to 2026 perfectly states why Augmented and Virtual Reality will have such a large economic impact for the retail world: “This could significantly help lower returns on products that do not fit one’s body or personal space, such as clothes and home furnishings. According to a survey by the U.S. National Retail Federation, returned merchandise cost U.S. retailers $284 billion in potential sales.” For this reason, we decided to create a Virtual Reality project and had little time to build an engaging virtual world.

What we realized is that the onset of new tech trends, means changes for the designers creating these user experiences and the developers who build virtual or augmented worlds. The way we think about a product and how we approach the build is different than how we consider building web or mobile applications. While mobile application design has inherent best practices, Virtual and Augmented Reality are still newfound frontiers. For example, there are concepts in Virtual Reality that a designer or developer wouldn’t be able to anticipate until they were tested, like whether or not the navigation with a headset could make you somewhat nauseous or how a user’s depth perception will affect usability. While the design and development teams at Raizlabs feel that there is an increase in product quality when the two teams are working in tandem, the practice of both teams working together on virtual and augmented reality products is necessary when testing the user experience.

The commerce experience we created focused on user fulfillment while making shopping accessible and engaging for everyone. Our demo example was a high-end store that has the potential to display everyday items, like a purse or laptop. But what’s great about virtual reality is that we got to add our own fantastical concepts. What’s not so everyday about this virtual store, is the zero gravity effect we have given merchandise; you can select an item and it floats into your hands. This wasn’t our first time building virtual worlds and we plan to use an outdoor terrain we’d built previously for Long Shot VR, a virtual reality archery game, to incorporate shopping for outdoor sporting goods like camping tents.

While we participated in the Hackathon for friendly competition and to grow our knowledge base of a tech we love, we’re still unsure of how our product will be used directly in the retail space. Still, at the end of the day we secured our own belief in the importance of design and development working side by side. Because of the hard work put in by all team members, we were able to go from a vague idea to a solid product in under 48 hours. We’ve always enjoyed doing work for clients in commerce and have worked with companies like Costco, RueLaLa, and L.L.Bean to create products with seamless and intuitive experiences. There’s no telling what will be next for Raizlabs and Virtual Reality, but we look forward to finding new ways to innovate and challenge our perspective on building great user experiences.

If you’re interested in hearing our expertise in new and emerging technologies and discussing how we can work with your team on Virtual or Augmented Reality projects, get in touch!