Beyond gaming: Can eCommerce play a role in virtual reality content creation?

Last week Venture Beat carried an article from Jeff Grubb outlining the seven factors — as identified by US based tech-advisory company Digi-Capital – that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality(VR) devices will need to get on top of to full leverage the potential of the market. A market they estimate will be worth $150B by 2020.

The seven key areas were mobility, vision, immersion, usability, flexibility, wearability and affordability.

However, one important element also deserved a mention in the potential growth of this market.

Quality VR content.

Snobal 3D virtual ecommerce platform

VR content as king (too)

In 1996 Bill Gates popularized the phrase “content is king”. It’s hard not to reflect back to his article when thinking about the potential virtual reality market (and also realizing how premonitory the article was given the growth of social media, popularity in blogging, growth of citizen journalism and decline in influence of traditional media).

“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines”. —  Bill Gates

And VR does need content.

Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey spoke at the Oculus Connect conference in September 2014 saying:

“Without content, nobody would be interested in this whole virtual reality thing.”
-Palmer Luckey (Oculus Co-founder)

And only last week Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer at a GeekWire Q&A said:

“It’s (VR) going to be amazing, but it’s just going to take a while for the hardware to get out there, and then to work with third-party developers to build all the experiences, because that’s going to be the real long pull”.  – Mike Schroepfer (Facebook CTO)

Because when Schroepfer mentions “experiences” what he is also saying is “content”.

At the moment indications are that games and perhaps film are the main focus for VR content.

Enter stage left: eCommerce.

eCommerce in need of richer sensory experiences

eCommerce has not really evolved in the last 20 odd yrs. Despite the pace of technology development not to mention proliferation of the word “innovation” whenever “retail” is mentioned, 31 years on from when the first recorded online shopping transaction was made by a Mrs Jane Snowball in the UK (margarine, cornflakes and eggs thank you very much!) we are still effectively left with flat storyboard click-and-order online shopping experiences.

It’s not like eCommerce is a shrinking market. If it were it might explain the slow pace of innovation. According to eMarketer’s global business-to-consumer eCommerce sales were predicted to increase by 20.1% in 2014 to reach $1.500 trillion. Not bad when you consider that in 2015 US eCommerce sales werereported to account for just 7% of total retail sales.

Seven per cent. Seems like lots of potential for growth there wouldn’t you agree?

Perhaps one reason for the slow pace of innovation in eCommerce experiences is many retailers obsess with bricks-and-mortar retail and act primarily as property owners first and retailers second. Maybe it’s because of the siloed business units in which retail operations find themselves working in unable to integrate online and offline seamlessly. Perhaps it’s the fact that the pace of technological innovation (there’s those words again) and more importantly consumer adoption of this technology has overtaken retailers ability to respond to it. Or maybe it’s a mixture of all of the above.

A 2013 paper by Professor of STEM Education and Professional Studies Manveer Mann from Old Dominion University (USA) states one of the key reasons why online shopping does not have more consumer uptake than it currently has is because of the lack of rick visual information. As Mann et al writes:

“…a key barrier to further consumer adoption of online shopping is that lack of rich sensory information in the online environment (Park, Lennon & Stoel, 2005)…this restrains consumers ability to fully evaluate products and increase the risks associated with online shopping.”

eCommerce IS in need of richer sensory information and visualization and VR has the potential to provide this. Which leads naturally to this.

Maybe eCommerce has the potential to play an important role in providing the inspiration, if you like, for the creation of quality VR content?

Last week Australian academic news website, The Conversation carried an article by Professor of Fashion Marketing at Nottingham Trent University Anthony Kent entitled Virtual reality tech may make ‘going shopping’ in real life a thing of the past”. The article went onto paint a picture of how online shopping may use VR but ended with the observation that there is someway to go before we will see VR retail experiences.


What Kent and Schroepfer say are valid. VR technology is still under development but eCommerce is in need of innovation, its in need of richer sensory information and the VR market is in need of quality content. And when the two come together it won’t be just ‘traditional’ eCommerce sites that will benefit from the enhanced visual capability of VR technology. So too will real estate sites, travel sites, tourist sites, galleries and museums.

Online (cultural) evolution

Take museums. The Smithsonian Institution — the world’s largest museum and research complex which has 19 museums and galleries has apparently 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in its collection with an estimated 2 percent on display at any one time. Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia holds 16 million items in “high-quality storage facilities”. The British Museum is reportedto have 99 per cent of its collection in storage. 99 percent!

Imagine if these museums made all their collections available through building online virtual museums? A museum would be able to exponentially grow its audience share and offer to a global audience 24/7 364 days of the year access toall their collections currently in storage. Not to mention providing these museums with a channel for additional revenue generation through purchase of products from the virtual museum.

As Altimeter analyst Jessica Groopman is reported to have said:

“There’s a big old world out there beyond’ll (VR) die on the vine if it’s not something that’s accessible, if it’s not providing value to a much wider audience, or at least many types of value to potentially many different segments.” – Jessica Groopman (Altimeter)

So. The next obvious question is how are retailers to create dynamic, affordable, quality VR experiences that can be delivered directly from their websites and that enable the consumer to purchase products, services and even experiences fromwithin the virtual experiences?

How indeed.

Watch this space.

Snobal is building a platform  for 3D connected experiences. This article first appeared on on 14 July 2015.
Article last edited: 12.04.16 


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