This story is from the 2017 Access FYI: How Young Innovators Are Connecting the World. Explore more from this issue

The Store of the Future: It’s Here

From shopping for furniture via virtual reality to visiting a brick-and-mortar Amazon store, retailers are connecting with consumers in innovative ways.

In a 2016 survey of shoppers in 25 countries, PricewaterhouseCoopers (aka PwC) found that 34 percent say their mobile phones are becoming their main purchasing tools. As mobile devices play a quickly growing role in e-commerce, retailers are creating immersive, innovative ways to connect consumers with products.

In May, eBay partnered with the Myer department store group in Australia to launch what it said was “the world’s first virtual reality (VR) department store.” To shop, you download an Android or iOS app, insert your phone into a VR headset — anything from a $99 Samsung Gear VR to a $5.95 pair of cardboard “shoptacals” offered by eBay and Myer — and walk through the virtual door of your customized store.

The app asks you to select areas of interest so it can build your unique store from the more than 12,000 products currently available. When you spot a product and hold your gaze on it, eBay’s Sight Search technology floats it toward you for a closer look. Gazing at an info icon gets you full details on the item, while a look at the “Add to Basket” icon gets your purchase started. (You do have to leave virtual reality and use the standard eBay app to complete your transaction.) Sight Search learns your shopping preferences and will suggest items on return visits; for vendors, eBay also plans to collect data on shoppers’ browsing habits and dwell times.

Wayfair uses VR to help shoppers visualize furniture in their homes
Wayfair uses VR to help shoppers visualize furniture in their homes.

Wayfair: See How Furniture Fits

Home goods are one of the last bastions of brick-and-mortar shopping, with only about 7 percent of purchases currently happening online. Online home goods retailer Wayfair hopes to boost that percentage with a strong push into VR that began in 2016. After launching an augmented reality app in June 2016 that lets shoppers place 3D furnishings into their actual living spaces as viewed in Google Play, weeks later the company’s in-house R&D team, Wayfair Next, announced its first VR application. Patio Playground, built for use with the Oculus Rift 3D gaming headset, lets you create a virtual patio, arrange furniture on it, and view it from different angles and times of day.

“I see this technology as another way that we are improving the online shopping experience,” said Mike Festa, Wayfair Next’s director, in an interview with “It helps solve the problem of knowing how a product is going to look and fit without having to take measurements or drive to a store.” It also brings some whimsy to the online shopping experience: You can play a bean-bag game on your virtual patio or choose to have your furniture dropped into the scene by a drone.

Alibaba: Shop, Then Pay — All in VR

Headquartered in China, Alibaba handles more transactions than any other e-commerce company — totaling nearly a quarter-trillion dollars annually — through its Taobao, Tmall and sites. In August, Alibaba introduced Buy+, its take on VR shopping, accessible via a smartphone app and a 15-cent cardboard headset. More than a store, it’s a virtual mall featuring seven stores at launch: U.S. retailers Costco, Macy’s and Target; Australia’s Freedom Foods and Chemist Warehouse; and Japan’s Tokyo Otaku Mode and Matsumoto Kiyoshi. While Macy’s doesn’t have stores in China, anyone using Buy+ can experience a visit to its New York City flagship store — to which you’re delivered after a ride through city streets in a pink Cadillac.

Buy+ is integrated with Alipay, Alibaba’s payment platform, to enable purchases within the app, since “it is very boring to have to take off your goggles for payment,” Lin Feng, director of the incubator that has been developing the service, recently told Reuters. “With this, you will never need to take out your phone.”

Amazon: No Checklanes Necessary

Amazon is betting that you still want to get out of the house once in a while, so their store of the future uses digital in a whole different way. Amazon Go combines an app with a brick-and-mortar grocery store. You scan your phone when you enter, and each item you add to your cart (that’s right, your physical shopping cart) is automatically recorded by the app as you shop. When you’re done, you simply leave the store with your purchases and the app automatically charges what’s in your cart to the credit card stored in your Amazon account. Amazon employees are currently testing the 1,800-square-foot prototype store in Seattle, and it’s expected to open to the public later in 2017.

Want more people, places and ideas shaping the future of our connected world? Check out the FYI List

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