What's missing for customers who've embraced the online shopping experience is the ability to try on clothing and try out items before buying them. Enter virtual reality (VR) and big investments by Walmart, Amazon, Ikea and others.
At Walmart's technology incubator, "Store No. 8," founder Katie Finnegan gives an example of a tent you might be thinking about buying. She says, "being able to actually see those items in Yosemite and being able to actually unzip the tent and lay down." Or maybe a down jacket. She says, "In virtual reality you can actually explode that jacket and look at the insides and see how many down feathers are actually in it and compare it to another jacket and see what this down jacket may be $20 more or less."
This summer, Walmart's tech hub put out a call to technology firms, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to submit their ideas. Finnegan says some of the ideas could come to market faster than others.
- Shoppers could try on virtual clothing at Bonobos.com, a male clothing store Walmart bought this year.
- Another company Walmart acquired, ModCloth, may be a place customers could take pictures of themselves to see how they might look in a piece of clothing.
- An "interactive virtual store" would allow customers to buy designer clothing by Rebecca Minkoff directly from the runway.
- A virtual fashion assistant may be able to help.
- Walmart may eventually offer product recommendations as an online tool allows the site to look inside your home.
Walmart is also using virtual reality to train employees for Black Friday.
So what equipment do I need to shop using virtual reality?
You can't do it most places yet, but eventually at minimum you'll need your smart phone and a $10 Google Cardboard or on the high end, an Oculus Rift.
One of Walmart's competitors, Amazon, is in the process of adding virtual reality shopping to increase sales. Lifehacker.com reports Ikea and eBay are already using VR in Australia.
Want an extra opinion about how you look in the virtual reality environment? Amazon's Echo has a voice-controlled camera and along with an app, uses machine learning technology to tell you in which outfit you look best, according to CNN.