eBay launches a world-first virtual reality department store

IMAGE: EBAY

IMAGE: EBAY

BY ARIEL BOGLE MAY 19, 2016

Virtual reality could be the next big thing after the mobile shopping boom, and the brands want in.

Not just for gaming, the technology could also support retail and browsing experiences, and eBay is one of the first companies to take the leap.

Partnering with Australian retailer Myer, eBay launched what it called the world's first virtual reality department store Wednesday. Shoppers can now look through thousands of Myer products without leaving home.

Once the iOS or Android eBay Virtual Reality Department Store app is downloaded, it works with headsets like Samsung's Gear VR. eBay and Myer are also offering 20,000 free "shopticals" — basically just Google Cardboard headsets — to shoppers.

During a quick trial, the experience worked smoothly with a basic, mind map-style interface. 

When you enter the virtual store, several categories of retail items are shown: women's clothing, electronics and others. Users select areas of interest, and the experience is built around the choices. As you move through, selecting or rejecting items, the store's algorithm should further adapt to what it thinks users might like. 

If you want to take a closer look at a watch or bra, 100 of the top products are viewable in 3D, with the remaining 12,500 in 2D.

Instead of having hand controllers, users select items using only sight. The company has created "eBay Sight Search," which allows items to be chosen by holding your gaze on them for a number of seconds. 

Items can be added to the basket in the same fashion, but to check out, users have to take off the headset and return to the eBay app to put through the payment. 

IMAGE: EBAY

IMAGE: EBAY

The development team chose to develop Sight Search so users could move quickly through the virtual store, Steve Brennen, senior director of marketing and retail innovation at eBay, told Mashable Australia.

"Your eyes can move so quickly," he said. "It became pretty obvious. Sight Search in a VR world of retail feels very sensible. How much customers use it, do they love it, is where we'll get to next."

"Sight Search in a VR world of retail feels very sensible. How much customers use it, do they love it, is where we'll get to next."

Rather than sitting on the project, he explained the company decided to launch early. Through use, it will offer both retailers plenty of insight into how shopping works and what customers want. 

Particularly, it will give them hereto impossible to collect data about what catches the shopper's eye and how they browse.

"Does virtual reality mean you will shop for longer — will customers browse for longer?" Brennen asked in his remarks at the launch party Tuesday. "Will the conversion rate for online sales increase in this environment? Will the return rate for retailers slow down?"

IMAGE: EBAY

IMAGE: EBAY

Obviously, there's plenty to work on: Leaving the app to checkout is a particularly awkward feature.

Building seamless transactions into the product is the obvious next step, Brennen said. "How do you browse, select and buy? That should be done in a virtual world," he said. "At the moment, we've got it to the point where you can select, add it your cart, and then you're thrown to the eBay app to check out."

Social shopping is also something they're thinking about — being able to bring your best friend or mum into the experience.

"Is this the next future of the retail experience? We're kind of believing now that it could be," he added. 

For the moment, it's unclear whether customers want to shop in virtual reality and whether they'll treat this as more than just a gimmick. 

If they do, and as the technology improves, retailers could get too good at selling you items you don't need. Think about that as you strap on your so-called "shopticals."