Welcome to the future! The catch cry of nearly every article about how Virtual Reality (VR) and/or Augmented Reality (AR) is going to be the future of shopping. But let’s be real, no one should be throwing welcome parties yet.
In November last year, Alibaba launched its VR shopping experience Buy+ where customers can slip their mobile phones into cardboard goggles, “travel” to stores overseas and buy things by staring at them. Check out this CNN demo of Alibaba Buy+.
What it looks like inside Alibaba's virtual reality shopping experience, Buy+

What it looks like inside Alibaba’s virtual reality shopping experience, Buy+

I’m sorry, but to me it just seems like a really good way to accidentally spend money whilst trying not to vom from motion sickness. I thought one reader put it perfectly when they commented “What a useless gimmick. It has neither the convenience of regular online shopping, nor the tangibility of real-world shopping. It’s literally the worst of both worlds.”
Alibaba joins a whole host of retailers around the world trying to find ways to incorporate the latest tech “game-changer”. The pervading logic is that “interactivity leads to immersion, and that immersion leads to conversion”, neatly put by the CEO of YouVisit.
But I have a question: is retail just following the lead of Venture Capitalists (VC’s) blindly throwing money at premature hype? 
Facebook is the biggest investor in VR with it’s $2B acquisition of Oculus in 2014 plus another $500m invested in development.

Facebook is the biggest investor in VR with it’s $2B acquisition of Oculus in 2014 plus another $500m invested in development. Only an introvert potentially on the spectrum would pay that much to make sure people don’t notice/talk to him when he walks by.

To borrow from one of my fave TV shows, Silicon Valley,
VR is “the frothiest space in the Valley right now. Nobody understands it but everyone wants in. Any idiot could walk into a room, utter the letters ‘v’ and ‘r’, and VC’s would hurl bricks of cash at them.”
Elrich Bachman, the character who said that, usually operates on questionable logic, but he’s actually not wrong this time. In 2016, VCs invested a record $2.3B in VR and AR, in the hopes that they will ride the unicorn explosion of the VR market from $14B in 2017 to $143B in 2020. But you know what needs to happen for that scale and speed of mass adoption? Porn.
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No words

Regardless of whether you’re into it, you have much to thank the porn industry for. Business Insider even called it “The Hidden Engine That Drives Innovation In Tech”, and VR/AR are not going to get very far without it.
The influence of porn as a driver of tech adoption and innovation dates all the way back to the first printing presses. The first thing produced was the bible – alongside that was sexual poetry and stories. Porn is, in fact credited with the popularisation of many pioneering technologies, including: the internet, online credit card payment, ever-increasing demand for bandwidth, 3D video and Snapchat.
But when it comes to VR Porn, it’s actually not a given that it will be a hit. Aside from the assumption that the mass market will be comfortable shifting from passive to interactive consumption, the high cost of investment required by producers and consumers is very high. So until the cost of tech comes down and demand is established, it might still be a while before VR gains sustainable traction.
As a retailer, I would advise you to not bet on this horse just yet. Whilst the customer experience of your brand IS everything, and it’s crucial to use tech to support it, don’t forget that tech without a purpose is just a gimmick. Don’t be distracted by techies getting into a flap about not jumping on the VR bandwagon like everyone else right now. Focus instead on what is important to your customer first, what are the problems that need to be solved, and then deliver with the solution that fits best. Right now, your wisest investment will be in Actual Reality.