Alibaba is using VR to make shopping more interactive. The e-commerce giant has launched Buy+, which enabled users to choose apparel and accessories via a 360-degree panoramic view with help from a robotic shopping assistant.
Still in beta, Buy+ lets users browse products from bags to shoes to lingerie and call for virtual models to showcase the apparel and accessories on a catwalk. Shoppers can then cycle through additional features with more product detail and add an item to their shopping cart or buy it.
Developed by Alibaba Group’s new VR/AR research unit Gnome Magic Lab, the VR Buy+ technology debuted at Taobao Maker Festival at Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center, according to a press release.
“VR technology will help customers have a vivid experience,” said Zhao Haiping, an engineer at GnomeMagic Lab,” in AllChinaTech.com “In the near future, customers could be experiencing shopping on Fifth Avenue in New York while sitting at home.”
Zhuang Zhuoran, mobile technology director Alibaba cautioned that specific business strategies are still TBD as an initial market for VR and AR is yet to be developed in China, reports South China Morning Post (owned by Alibaba). “The industry needs time more time to mature,” said Zhuoran.
“Mobile Taobao succeeded after smart phones matured,” noted Chris Tung, Alibaba CMO. “Likewise, when leading VR device makers are all here, it’s our time.”
Major e-commerce players are leveraging the latest tech such as eBay’s partnership with Australia’s Myer department store in May, with the goal of building the first VR store on the planet.
But for consumers, it remains a nascent market until hardware costs and perfecting of the shopping experience are realized.
For example, Xu Jing, a 25-year-old visitor to the Taobao Maker Festival, said in SCMP, “I would love to have a try in a demonstration shop, but I don’t think I will spend so much just to experience a new form of shopping at home… unless they can design the model in my own shape and show how a piece of clothing, say a bra, fits me.”
To own the headset Taobao used for Buy+, Jing would have to spend about 7,000 yuan ($1,050).
Alibaba said that at this point the VR technology represents “imagination of the future,” rather than any immediate benefit from m-commerce. At present, there are about 100 kinds of VR devices are available in the Chinese market, mostly low-end and similar to Google’s Cardboard.
“As users continue to engage with the platform in more meaningful ways, we are fostering next-generation consumption features, such as virtual reality, to transcend the overall user experience,” said Tung.
Alibaba’s GnomeMagic Lab has several hundred product models for Buy+ and is working on standardized tools for brands and merchants that sell on Taobao to build their own 3D inventories, anticipating the day when businesses can set up VR stores quickly and easily—like a web page.
Goldman Sachs estimates the global VR and AR market will reach $110 billion by 2020. Alibaba, billed as “the world’s leading platform for global trade,” just upped the ante to include virtual worlds as well.