​CMO interview: eBay’s new virtual shop signals era of v-commerce

eBay’s head of marketing and retail innovation reveals why the future of personalisation is all about v-commerce

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Virtual reality and shopping collide to provide eBay customers a world-first new VR shopping experience, and the future is now no longer about e-commerce, but v-commerce, says eBay’s CMO and senior director of retail innovation, Steve Brennen.

Making the grand reveal in partnership with Myer, eBay launched the pioneering technology that allows Australian customers to browse more than 12,500 products using eBay’s new gaze recognition technology, Sight Search.

Following a 12-month development phase, the virtual reality department store now connects to the existing eBay site, which can be accessed by a new eBay VR Department Store app. Once the app is downloaded, customers then place their smartphones in a set of ‘shoptical’ VR glasses to start the shopping experience.

“This is the first step, it’s a glimpse into what’s possible,” Brennan told CMO Magazine. “But at the same time we were challenging ourselves asking whether we were building this to scale.”

A whole new dimension to online shopping

According to Brennan eBay, wanted to take the best of the physical experience and the digital experience and embrace a new channel to address these opportunities in the virtual world.

“You can now shop with your eyes, whereas traditionally, ecommerce has been all with your hands,” he said. “And web browsing and searching is more pre-determined, but we are opening up infinite possibilities for how you might shop.”

He said the new VR department store is not limited to floor, wall or shelf space or location. Customers can get up close and personal in a 3D way with products that no web experience could ever deliver, he claimed.

“eBay has always been in the business of predicting the future of retail, and most importantly, creating it,” Brennen said. “With the world’s first virtual reality department store, we have challenged ourselves to build an exciting and engaging experience that makes browsing and selecting products easier than ever before.”

The age of hyper-personalisation

eBay’s CMO and senior director of retail innovation, Steve Brennen
eBay’s CMO and senior director of retail innovation, Steve Brennen

Brennan predicts soon we’ll see seamless transactions, social shopping and true personalisation – all in the virtual world.

“You could sit on a sofa in Sydney, shop in a boutique in London, with your sister who lives in Vancouver,” he said. “Why not? It’s possible, and in a virtual world anything is possible.”

A powerful function of the new VR technology is the ability to capture customer data, which Brennan says is far more significant than what you can capture on traditional digital platforms.

“Data is our point of difference,” he said. “At eBay we always have more data than we need, but our job is to sift through it and see what is valuable, actionable and useful.”

With VR, Brennen says retailers can quickly learn what customer like and don’t like and track customer interests and preferences to then offer a far more personalised experience.

“What customers reject is just as important as what they like and gaze time in the VR world is super important,” he said. “We’ll know if you’re interested in a product because your gaze paused for longer on a product before you moved on.”

It is this personalisation that Brennan believes will be the real game changer in the virtual world, as it will mean a truly individualised shopping journey.

“Customers will be able to share their details with brands and stores they trust, and from that point on, no customer will ever experience the same journey as any other customer,” he said. “You will be able to create your own personalised store, which will only stock products you love and brands you care about, that are the right size for you and are in stock.”

Ebay's new VR interface uses gaze technology to provide a more personalised experience
Ebay's new VR interface uses gaze technology to provide a more personalised experience

The challenges of moving into 3D

The rollout was not without its challenges. Brennen said his team had to carefully consider what experience eBay wanted to deliver, considering nothing like this had ever been offered before.

“We had to consider how we wanted our brand to be perceived in a virtual world, and carefully map design and user experience, while looking at how to really drive engagement in a VR store,” he said. “We also needed to figure out how to really create a strong purchase flow up to checkout and an intuitive, seamless experience.”

Another challenge was rendering physical products into 3D for the virtual world, which Brennen said is difficult considering there are currently very few tech players offering these services on the market.

“The images have a lot of data and are very heavy to load, and very few people are doing 3D rendered images at the moment,” he explained. “I think there will be a bunch of startups giving us these more in the future. But right now, if you want a 3D image, you have to make it yourself.”

Why collaboration is key

Brennen said eBay has been thrilled to partner with Myer on the new VR rollout and believes you need to collaborate with smart people who believe about innovation to drive a project of his scale to reality. The move follows another recent partnership with Woolworths and the new ‘click and collect’ option for shoppers.

“If the customer is going to benefit, we are going to pull our technology and know-how together and collaborate with iconic Australian brands, to bring these new offerings and services to market,” he said. ‘Ultimately, you need to have a lead and create attitude and get out there and just do it.”

V-commerce and the marketing mix

Moving forward, Brennen believes brands will not only need to look into an e-commerce strategy, but a v-commerce strategy to keep customers engaged.

“VR will no longer be a separate retail channel but a complimentary channel added into the retail mix,” he added. “We know this technology is a game changer and we are very proud to be driving it from Australia.

“This is the beginning of a new beginning for retail. VR offers absolutely no limit as to what the future looks like. There are a number of developments in VR technology that will catapult it into the mainstream.”

The technology is now accessible to all Australians with eBay’s giveaway of 15,000 free shopticals. Customers are invited to explore the experience and provide feedback as part of the next phase of the technology’s development.

“It’s ground breaking technology, it’s a new exciting, engaging and immersive way to shop - and it’s been created here first in Australia,” Brennen said. “Australians are early adopted of technology, and here on eBay, we believes Australians are hungry to experience the VR experience. The possibilities are endless and the future is exciting.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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