By Alan Shekhtman and Averie Hah
For a long period of time, the future of virtual reality in retail remained unclear. It was unclear whether or not consumers could ever shop in virtual reality or whether or not they would put on the headsets to watch brand experiences. However, the VR headset trend has really gained momentum as Samsung's Gear VR had over 1 million active users last April. In addition, Tractica predicts that nearly 200 million headsets will be sold by 2020. That's two-thirds of the United States population.
As people continue to adopt VR in the mainstream, many of our daily activities will be done in VR, as well. One of those activities, retail shopping, could easily make the transition. Brick and mortar retailers have already embraced online and mobile outlets. It won't be long before we hit the next logical step: the VR outlet.
Virtual reality has been expected to hit the retail industry for some time now. In a Goldman Sachs market report, the VR retail market is expected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2025. However, a few pioneers are now beginning to see its potential.
When it comes to fashion and apparel, brands such as Topshop, Merrell, Tommy Hilfiger, Dior, and North Face have created VR experiences that have been praised by fans and company executives alike.
The excitement comes from the interest in having a virtual shopping experience. According to a study from Ericsson ConsumerLab, shopping was the top reason worldwide smartphone users were interested in VR with "seeing items in real size and form when shopping online" as the main interest according to 64 per cent of respondents. When given the option of having a virtual avatar of themselves, half of the survey respondents were eager to take a "3D selfie" in order to virtually try on clothes.
In addition to clothing stores, marketplace companies are beginning to favour the idea of giving shoppers 24/7 convenient access to purchasing goods in the most appealing way. Ebay created a virtual reality app last May for Australian shoppers.
The shoppers could choose items and view them in ways that showcased their features more accurately. For example, if they wanted to buy a watch, they could see it in 3D to get a better look at its design and features. In addition, the user could use his or her gaze to scroll through the items. This eliminates the need for any handheld joysticks as users can quickly scroll through using the speed of their eyes. In addition, the gaze control feature presents retailers with very valuable information as they can track exactly where the customer is looking.
With Ebay leading the charge in virtual reality shopping, or "v-commerce," perhaps other giants like Amazon and Walmart will follow suit. Consumer reactions towards VR tend to be very positive, as two out of three consumers say that they would be interested in virtual shopping. With such optimism surrounding VR shopping experiences, this may be the jolt that the retail industry needs to excite customers some more, and set the path for v-commerce.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
One of the most common complaints from amputee victims is the feeling of phantom pain -- feeling the missing limb but not being able to see or control it. Exactly what causes phantom pain is unknown, but it's likely a result of the brain still recognizing the limb even though it's no longer there. Despite the frequency of this problem, there's no one method of dealing with the pain that works for all amputees. But an experimental study, detailed in the journal Frontiers for Neuroscience, soothed one man's chronic phantom pain after 48 years of suffering by allowing him to not only see a virtual representation of the limb, but also to control it using electrodes attached to the base of the missing limb that measured muscle movement. The patient reported a drastic improvement in his phantom pain. The therapy needs to undergo more tests before it can be more widely used in treatment.
Burn patients, as well, can benefit from the use of virtual reality. Suffering through agonizingly painful treatment and therapy (such as the cringe-inducing "skin stretching" therapy) can be eased through a virtual game called "SnowWorld," first used by Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Ill. The game puts victims as far from their injuries as mentally possible by letting them shoot snowballs at penguins and snowmen while jamming to Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" (or whatever else they choose to listen to). The treatment helps distract patients by letting them have a little fun while also visually simulating a more comfortable environment for them. MRI results, as well as patient testimony, show that it's succeeding.
VR has been effective in treating soldiers who have returned from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and are suffering from PTSD. In this video, you see how the patient is gradually kept under stress by visiting a virtual representation of a Middle Eastern town. The therapy keeps the patient under reasonable amounts of stress so that he can learn to handle the stress and, hopefully, control it. While many consider this treatment controversial, proponents say it can be effective for some patients when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. PTSD isn't the only psychological disorder VR can help to treat. The Virtual Reality Medical Center says phobias, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders can all be treated as well.
Virtual Reality has proved effective at treating children with autism. It can help them learn social cues, fine-tune motor skills, or experiment with real-world lessons like waiting until it's safe to cross the street. One reason behind the treatment's efficacy could be that children with autism interact well with technology, specifically virtual reality. Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior, told NBC News that it's the technology's predictability, controllability and "infinite patience" that makes it such an effective teacher for these children. While these two youngsters are working with an Xbox One Kinect in this photo (also a sort of virtual reality), head-mounted displays are also used in this research.
Medical students don't have very many chances at the "error" part of trial-and-error learning. It's a big jump from operating on a human in theory to making the first cut on the operating table. Virtual reality makes "practice makes perfect" more practical. Recent uses of virtual reality in medicine include
It's not just medicine that's being improved by virtual reality. Some are finding uses for the technology in some surprising industries like the financial industry. An experiment by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab used virtual reality goggles to show 20-somethings what they would look and move like in their 60's in an attempt to get more young people to start saving for retirement early. The experiment worked. According to ABC News, those who wore the goggles put twice as much money into a hypothetical retirement account than those who did not.
Follow Awane Jones on Twitter: www.twitter.com/5thWallAgency