Virtual Reality Transforms Real-Life Shopping in Stores

By Heather Somerville
San Jose Mercury News

In the not-too-distant future, grocery shoppers wearing Google Glass will see coupons for a new cereal flash before their eyes as they search for Cheerios, while others browsing the dairy section will have information about the health benefits of soy milk pop up automatically on their iPads.

Dozens of big-name retailers, including Bloomingdale’s, Victoria’s Secret, Tesco, Wal-Mart and Target, already are experimenting with virtual reality, a computer-simulated 3-D environment viewed through a computer screen or wireless glasses, or augmented reality, which uses technology to alter the physical environment by adding sound, images or words to enhance the real-world experience.

Give it a few more years, industry experts say, and the once ho-hum trip to the average store will be radically different.

For consumers, this is mostly good news, experts say. The technology will give shoppers the power to make better buying decisions and eliminate some shopping irritations.

Retailers are using virtual reality to improve store layouts, and companies are creating augmented reality applications for in-store navigation, so shoppers aren’t searching up and down aisles for five of the 10 ingredients to make dinner.

Shoppers will also be able to try on clothes virtually, no more running in and out of dressing rooms with clothes that don’t fit.

“In five years, you will not walk into a retailer and get lost,” said Barbara Barclay, general manager of North America for Tobii, an eye-tracking technology company with offices in Mountain View, Calif. “They’ll know who you are and what your last shopping experience was. They will know where you’re looking on a shelf. The whole shopping experience in five years will be highly personalized.”

Much of the new technology has been developed in Silicon Valley, where companies including Accenture, a technology and consulting company in San Jose, Calif.; Matterport, a Mountain View tech startup and 3-D camera developer; and Tobii have been quietly courting retailers with new products. Some are preparing for mass market rollouts early next year.

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