Virtual reality (VR) – tipped by Goldman Sachs to be worth $80bn globally by 2025 – has opened a whole new world for those in the business of selling. But to truly capitalise on this tech opportunity, retailers must look for ways to adopt a more socialised, communal edge – something we are calling ‘hangout e-comm’.

"VR is tipped to be worth $80 billion by 2025."

Spurred by consumers for whom social media and daily group communications are an omnipresent way of life, some brands are beginning to explore this, including the ability to see or speak to multiple friends during the experience. Facebook Spaces – an Oculus Rift-specific app, for example, allows users to hang out with friends, as avatars, in the same virtual environment.


The new group chat


A similar concept is US start-up Dreamscape Immersive, which is hoping to open a VR Multiplex in Los Angeles. Anticipated to launch later this year, the 10-minute experience will enable up to six people to interact in a single virtual environment. The company has some heavyweight backing too, including Steven Spielberg, film studios Warner Bros and 21st Century Fox, and movie format company Imax Corporation and Westfield Malls.

"Are group conversations online a daily way of life?"

Other big brands, like eBay and Australian department store Myer, have future plans to include shopping groups within its joint shoppable VR department store.


Immersive shopping


For brands, platforms like this could be used to transform creative projects into interactive immersive environments, like Gucci’s 4 Rooms initiative, where four artists created rooms that were explorable as mini films and animated visuals.

Today’s consumers expect a seamless brand experience no matter what channel they are using. As such, there’s a need for VR that embraces characteristics from the physical world – such as the capacity to communicate (in some instances even physically interact) with others while shopping.

"Today's customers expect seamless experiences."

Concepts like Facebook Spaces and Dreamscape Immersive are helping VR transcend its limiting reputation as a solo activity, and deepen brand storytelling. For retailers, it’s an untapped opportunity to deliver a sense of physicality that’s key to a more satisfyingly socialised experience.