The Future of Virtual Shopping

24 mai 2016   by Yanis Azze
Putting back the « Shops » in Web Shopping with WebGL.

The novelty of online stores in the ‘90s and their evolution has engraved the belief that the web has completely or at least partially replaced physical stores. It might be true for purely digital medias like movies or music, but a vast majority of consumers are still found to prefer the real-life experience of physical stores, be it to test new electronic devices, try on some expensive outfits or experience the touch and look of their currently coveted cars or furniture. WebGL and the advent of the 3D Web might put the final nail in the coffin of physical shopping.

One of the first product launched by Steve Jobs as soon as he joined Apple back after selling NeXT, was the first version of the Apple Online Store in 1997. A few years before, Jeff Bezoz launched in 1994, which started as an online bookstore. While the web has vastly evolved since, it’s easy to forget how far back the online shopping experience came from, and yet it hasn’t evolved much: most online outlets consist of flat pages on which users are presented with a list of products only described with a ramble of tech specs and a few stills.

Not much has changed, mainly due web developers’ limitations and processes that still operate in a 2D paradigm, the cakes being taken by the flat design trend of these past few years. But this might be about to change with the growing integration of standards such as WebGL, which enables web browsers to tap into a PC’s graphic capacities to display proficient 3D visuals.

The 3D Online Store

As we’re are moving away from an informational/text-based web to a more visual one injected with different media formats, and because a picture speaks a thousand words, companies web pages in fashion, electronics, appliances or furniture industries are gearing their web catalogs and presentations towards a more creative or magazine covers-like approach.

But the epitome of a brand’s products presentation is found in a store’s merchandising, which can be as bland but well-thought as a Starbuck franchise or as artistically crafted as displays in a Hermes store in Paris. The 3D Web now gives the possibility for these brands to create or reproduce these displays on virtual web pages.

Not only that, but the whole shopping experience can be reproduced by recreating a virtual store inside a webpage, so that you’re not just presented with raw stills of products but get to experience a whole brand’s universe, best presented or more effectively in physical stores until now. But then why stop there?

The virtual world does not just have the potential to be an emulation of the real world’s limitations, but leaves the door open for more creative virtual stores and places which can be crafted like virtual theme parks, visual storytelling or interactive experiences. It’s also not hard to imagine that extraordinary low cost pop-up store could emerge, giving merchandisers the freedom to experiment, having more control of the virtual sensorial and experiential marketing set-up, thus giving more creative power to the brands.

Interactive 3D Products

And of course, in a 3D shop or display, the product has a central place, and here it becomes a whole new possibility: the art of merchandising is not merely putting photos or products out on a shelf and be done with it. There is a complex experiential, psychological, marketing and even artistic process in the making of presentation contents that can best draw the interest and desires out of a simple display.

With the 3D modelling of a product, customers can not only visualize, customize and simulate the trying out of a product, but the whole context of it can also be changed.

In the 3D web, not only is the product displayed in its best light like it would in a CG ad, but the physical prospect is also not just bound to wait in line, then hastily try a product in a noisy and stressing environment, but can be put in different simulated real-life situation, as well as more creative or exotic ones. Like using a virtual model of an Apple Watch in an actual virtual apartment situation, or Ford automobile on a far away vacation road. 

The Augmented Changing Room

Alongside 3D and VR, Augmented Reality is also making its way into marketing, and one of it’s obvious applications is the possibility to try and put products in the context of the shopper, thanks to now well developed face, body and room tracking.

There’s no more powerful prospect engagement tool than the possibility for a person to preview a cosmetic, fashion, enhancing or decorating product in the context of their own life. Not only does virtual online shopping offer features to visualize what a fashion item would look like on us, or a how a piece of furniture would look like in our living room, but the convenience of the digital interface gives automatic, more accurate, relevant cues and information suited for each individuals.

Such a shopping process makes it possible for users to match products items, colours and textures from the comfort of their own dressing room with their whole clothes set to compare on the spot. 

The Virtual IA Vendor

As we draw closer to the growing automation of industries, not just in manufactured products, but also services and softwares, 3D shops are also a virtual place in which companies can give life to Intelligent Shopping Assistant that do no just act as monotone chat or voice-based robot, but give them a whole avatar persona and discourse in the image of the brand.

We can see how a well conceived voice assistant like Siri is capable of understanding contextual requests and give lively, sometimes humorous responses. Giving a face to these virtual mascots is also an incredibly powerful tool to help the shopping experience get better and more personal.

And because the internet, and their cookies, always remembers, it’s imaginable that some Intelligent Shopping Assistants will be automatically attributed to users, if not adapting to their personality and develop a professional vendor-customer relationship, although the help we’re searching for is the not the one Theodore is seeking in the movie
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