There is a new buzzword in town, and it’s called Virtual Reality.
Gone are the days when VR was just a pipeline dream. With the wake of stunning immersive innovations like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, the technology has drawn a lot of attention over the past couple of years. Although the systems have not entered mainstream, VR has been making a great deal of noise across many business industries, beyond gaming. It is now being recognized in multiple industries, such as healthcare, e-commerce, business marketing and more.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Zuckerberg said that VR has endless possibilities. He believes that VR is a good candidate to be the next major computing platform surpassing all industries.
But have you ever made a bet on how VR is going to impact website design?
Imagine a virtual store where you could actually try your dress on. You put on the VR glasses and there you are, surrounded by racks of dresses! You could try them and get a view of yourself through a 3D perspective. This will give you the power to edit and customize your clothing before ordering them. Imagine how much more advanced this would be from our existing e-commerce platform. And why just clothes; this could soon be applicable for pretty much every product in the world – from cars to holidays!
And with many businesses putting more and more thought into the possibilities of VR in web browsing experience, we will soon be experiencing a new and exciting world of website design.
The Future Shopping Frontiers—VR in e-commerce websites
At a time when e-commerce websites are taking over brick and mortar stores, Virtual Reality is helping to push this trend forward by offering almost-real shopping experience. As of now the overall customer e-commerce experience confines to a click and buy action. According to a Walker Sands Future of Retail report, consumers are now searching for an authentic in-store shopping experience from the comfort of their homes. Here is where VR gives online retail a new direction.
For instance, websites like x-cart are offering a virtual walk through of their store so that customer can see the dimensions and also experience a 360 degree view of the items on display as they would in the real store. e-bay Australia also has a VR option, where one just needs to purchase their VR viewing device to enjoy a virtual shopping experience.
Vera Bradley, the premium lifestyle store also offers a stunning VR experience. You can explore the different sections of the store on the website just as you would physically. Shopify lets its merchant partners and customers both take advantage of technology to create and experience a nearly real shopping experience using their VR equipment, and even without it by just using the usual browser.
IKEA has adopted VR for its Kitchen Experience, wherein customers can explore their entire kitchen options using VR technology. Chinese retail giant, Alibaba’s Buy+ VR experience takes customers through the virtual store where one can walk around and get the experience of being in a brick and mortar store.
VR in travel destination websites
While VR is taking baby steps in several niche markets, it is a potent tool for the tourism industry as a viable medium to communicate intangible, real life travel experiences to a large audience. VR has the ability to impact vacationers’ travel prospects to a particular destination before purchasing a package and traveling to a destination. It can:
- Guide tourists while deciding a travel destination by providing an engaging preview
- Open up possibilities of visiting “hard to reach” locations without leaving the room
- Increase accessibility and eliminate global boundaries
- Enhance visual imagery and entertainment
- Increase global interaction
As of now, there appears to be limited research on leveraging VR in travel and tourism websites. However, an increasing number of travel promoters and businesses have slowly begun experimenting with the integration of VR elements into their websites, especially by offering a preview of hotels before booking. The best example here is of Travel Tours 360, a virtual reality travel destination website and mobile portal, which was launched by FluidCast VR at VR LA this year. It is touted as the first of its kind VR web in travel and tourism sector. Users, when accessing this website, can see a real immersive preview of their desired travel destination before traveling. If it doesn’t get any better, they have also added preview of hotels, fashion stores, parks etc. in the US and Canada.
There are also a couple of emerging VR travel websites, which offer free virtual travel experiences and options to view content without a VR gear.
Discovery VR: The Discovery channel has taken a great initiative in integrating virtual content into their websites. Now you can get a riveting view of some of their most interesting events and locations just through a click and drag action.
Jaunt VR: Jaunt VR is creating a lot of buzz as it offers more of a curated virtual reality video content, there by providing a cinematic view of several popular travel destinations.
In spite of these strides in technology, there is still concern over how long it will take to implement truly immersive VR experience in websites, unlike in its current form which is confined to flat monitors and 2D content. Let’s look at some roadblocks in VR.
Roadblocks in VR websites
Getting online with the current VR headsets is not a cake walk, especially as long as integration is in its infancy stage. As of now, no browsers are fully developed to support VR integration, apart from a couple of exceptions like Chromium and Firefox’s Nightly build. You will still need a third party application to access a VR site. Also, the resolution of the current VR headsets are a major challenge as they create “screen door effect” due to gaps between pixels. This was a concern in both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, although they claim to have eliminated the issues.
And that’s not all…
Currently, the internet is not designed to adopt VR in its full-fledged form. The content of almost all sites is still limited to 2D version. As virtual reality is way beyond a smart phone display or flat monitors, this is going to be a major problem that will need to be tackled before implementing VR in web design.
But there’s good news too
Couple of years ago, WordPress had announced that all sites of WordPress.com would support VR images and videos, pushing them for the first time into mainstream. When we thought things couldn’t get any better, WordPress last year successfully published and viewed VR and 360 degree content without plugins. Also, recently, TIBVR announced a VR website with real time CMS.
All of these developments could perhaps be the beginning of a VR-centered website movement.
But hold your thought here – today, Virtual Reality is restricted to the user’s auditory and visual senses; however, in the future, it is likely to heighten. There are several concerns to be addressed and umpteen number of improvements required in the existing hardware to see more of prevalent VR implementations.
It could well be deliberated that though the prospects of VR are huge for websites, we still need to wait for some time till it goes really big. 2017 might not be the year.
As Frank Azor, GM Alienware, in an interview with TIME last year said, “Once you begin catering to the rest of the senses, like what we feel body-wise, temperature-wise, and smell, the reality factor of virtual reality [becomes] stronger and the virtual piece begins to fade.”
Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time!