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Fibrum, a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster that makes virtual reality headsets, games and platforms, has developed the world’s first chain of virtual stores for the Chinese ecommerce platform AliExpress.
Customers in the virtual stores can choose from three categories: clothing, electronics and children's goods. Photo: http://tmall-vr.com/.
The groundbreaking network consists of 121 virtual stores in 11 Russian cities, operated by AliExpress and Tmall, online retail sites owned by China’s Alibaba Grop. To shop at the stores, customers do not need a VR headset or even a separate app, but can simply access them via their phone or other mobile device.
The virtual stores are identified by special markers which, when a smartphone or tablet computer is pointed at them, reveal stores selling electronics, clothing and children’s goods: customers can choose which category of goods to view. The markers are located both inside malls and in outdoor locations.
Smartphone users see the image of a store, complete with window displays and shelves stocked with goods. Customers can virtually pick up the goods and examine them, see the price and purchase them if they wish (via the main AliExpress website), after which the items will be delivered in a matter of days.
“The exceptional aspect of this solution for AliExpress is the use of Web-VR technology, which makes it possible to create virtual reality directly in the browser of the mobile phone, without the need to use a separate app,” Oksana Veselova, marketing director at Fibrum, told Sk.ru.
If shoppers have access to a virtual reality headset that can be used with their mobile phone, they will get a more realistic and immersive experience, as the camera will follow their head movements and goods will appear more tridimensional, according to Fibrum.
“This project is unique both for our market and for the world,” said Ilya Flaks, founder and director general of Fibrum, which won a competition in 2015 organised jointly by Skolkovo and AliExpress.
“For us, the realization of such a bold and breakthrough idea is not only an opportunity to apply all of our experience and knowledge, it’s also an excellent chance to show once again that Fibrum is rightly considered a leader in the field of virtual reality,” said Flaks, who presented Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, with a Fibrum headset at the World Internet Conference in China last year, along with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The first virtual AliExpress and Tmall stores were launched on November 3 in the cities of Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Chelyabinsk and Novosibirsk, followed by subsequent openings in Ufa, Samara, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg and Moscow. The Russian launch is a pilot project, after which AliExpress will make a decision on whether to open fully-fledged virtual stores in other countries.
“Right now, we are seeing a shift from the perception of VR solutions as pure entertainment to that as a real business tool used by corporations and their clients to improve efficiency and convenience,” said Alexei Kalenchuk, head of virtual and augmented reality and gamification technologies within the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster.
“Retail and e-commerce is one of the least occupied niches for now, so AliExpress’s decision to pilot such solutions together with Fibrum on the Russian market makes perfect sense and represents a business case with great potential,” he added.
Last year, Goldman Sachs estimated that the market for virtual and augmented reality retail would be worth $1.6 billion by 2025.