Will virtual reality or augmented reality revolutionize how we shop? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Kynan Eng, Research group leader, neuroscience of VR and applications to rehabilitation, on Quora:

Virtual and augmented reality provide two key potential benefits for computer-based shopping: simulation of ownership and spatially referenced shopping. Each of these concepts is addressed in more detail below.

Simulation of ownership means that the buyer is better able to understand what the purchase means to them, resulting in better purchasing decisions. Examples of this include:

  • Immersive views of a house or car that a person wishes to buy. It might also include views of a holiday resort at different locations: the beach, hotel lobby, main tourist sites, etc.
  • Correct life-size display of a virtual object, plus relations between objects. For example: clothes on a virtual self-representation, a piece of furniture or a painting in a home context, or a new plant next to an existing plant.
  • Close-up inspection beyond what is normally possible in reality: inside a car engine, the inaccessible under-floor or roof of a house, a bird's eye view of a site, etc.
  • Simulation of product use cases, including the effects of changes in the time of day, time of year, lighting or weather.

Spatially referenced shopping refers to the physical experience of walking through a shop, which has been partly lost in screen-based shopping interactions. Virtual navigation through a shop, if done correctly, has a number of advantages over screen-based shopping:

  • Better memory: the human brain dedicates a lot of volume to visual-spatial processing. We are very good at remembering directions and relative positions of things, such as "the milk is at the back left corner of the supermarket near the bread". VR shopping can help to exploit these memory mechanisms more effectively than website navigation. This can be used to enable faster shopping, and also to manipulate shopping behavior.
  • Serendipitous discovery: There is something about physical browsing, whether it is for CDs or kitchenware or clothes, that humans like. It has never been really compellingly replicated in browser form. Accidental impulse purchases, such as grabbing a candy bar at a checkout display, are a powerful tool for increasing sales.

At the moment (2017), many of these benefits are not yet able to be realized due to technological limitations. The most important limitations include inefficiencies in navigating in VR spaces, and the limited resolution of current VR displays. To date, the main application of VR shopping has been in static 360-degree views of houses and holiday resorts, where the benefit is clear and technologically feasible on an industrial scale.

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Published on: Sep 15, 2017