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Innovation

Alibaba to open virtual reality shop

Let the record show Myer and eBay and have beaten Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to market when it comes to VR shopping.

Alibaba Group Holding plans to open a virtual reality (VR) demonstration shop this month, with the technology to roll out by the end of the year.

Its VR product is designed for online shopping. Alibaba’s 400 million customers will have their buying experience enhanced by wearing a VR helmet or glasses designed to simulate being in a physical store.

At a media briefing in Shanghai, an Alibaba representative wearing a Vive VR helmet from HTC Corp of Taiwan showed how a shopper could tour a three-dimensional digital store.

The demonstration showed a robotic store associate talking to the visitor and recommending new products.

Shoppers can rotate products they see in the virtual store by moving a controller connected to the helmet, and even ask for a model to show how the product works or is worn. Users can also use the controller to click the buy button.

“VR is a great way to demonstrate products or services, especially for such categories as furniture and travel products,” says Zhuang Zhuoran, senior director of mobile, Alibaba.

Alibaba set up its Gnome Magic Lab in March to develop software to enable merchants to build virtual stores. While costs are high to convert a real product to its digital, three-dimensional equivalent (about $50), the company hopes to be able to reduce this to about $1.

VR gear ranges in price from $20 to $1000, and consumers buy 300,000 VR units on Alibaba’s Chinese online marketplaces each month, says the group.

In May this year Myer and eBay launched the world’s first “virtual reality (VR) department store.”

“It was a really exciting thing to do,” Myer CEO Richard Umbers said of the VR launch. “It’s not going to be a revolution here and now, but I bet you that in a decade’s time virtual reality is playing a critical, active role in our industry.

“Being able to get there, get there early and get there first is getting the learnings, it’s adapting your culture, making that possible in five to 10 years time.”

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