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Could virtual reality be the future of online shopping? HTC Vive seem to think so

I recently made a visit to the Gugenka VR Store, a shopping vendor based within the confines of VR Chat. It was a strange, innovative and surprisingly fun experience. 

The Gugenka Virtual Shop first opened back in 2019, but has since expanded to promote a number of popular anime and games, while also providing a way to purchase Vive products from the comfort of your own home. 

Much like VR Chat on a normal day, it’s a surreal yet welcoming idea that feels especially poignant in the age of the pandemic. We aren’t allowed to enter any shops in reality due to the current lockdown, so this was an usual way to simulate normality – but with a dose of extra anime. 

The Gugenka Virtual Shop is a building which consists of various different floors, each one representing a specific brand or franchise. Vive has opened up shop on the fourth floor, transforming it into a massive display filled with virtual reality headsets and other accessories. 

Boxes of products are stacked upon shelves, and you can view 3D models of select headsets to determine whether or not they’re right for you. The experience isn’t perfect, and the visual fidelity could certainly use some work, but putting that aside it remains a novel approach to the retail experience.

Given you are browsing products from a VR company while wearing a virtual reality headset, such a storefront almost feels pointless, but that will likely vary depending on the person. The storefront was opened in Japan during the midst of both a national lockdown and Golden Week, a holiday period which has the entire country taking time off work.

I visited the storefront using the Vive Cosmos Elite, which earned a 3.5/5 in our review: “The impressive room-scaling, motion-tracking and high screen resolution combine to ensure this headset offers one of the best VR experiences yet, but its laborious setup, wired limitations and fussy space requirements are so frustrating that it takes a lot of willpower to even start playing.”

But could online shopping in virtual reality be a true possibility for the future? Right now – it’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in Vive’s case. Right now, the company doesn’t have a product which provides virtual reality experiences in a way that is easy for the average consumer to enjoy. Oculus Quest 2, on the other hand, allows anyone to put on the headset and immediately lose themselves in VR.

However, there is an audience for this kind of thing, especially during the pandemic. VR Chat is a compelling social platform where you can don an avatar and communicate with friends and strangers alike in a realistic space. It’s fun to play and there’s not much else like it, so why not combine a concept like this with games and other activities like shopping?

I’ve been raving in VR Chat and it was wild, and feels like a real night on the town with a few like-minded friends by your side. Virtual reality holds endless possibilities, but its progress depends on a wider audience, which right now remains a mixed bag of hardcore consumers and curious players dipping their toes in for the very first time. Either way, I’m excited to see where things like Gugenka Store go in the years to come. If you fancy giving VR Chat a shot, it’s free on Steam and can be played without a headset.

Are you a regular VR player? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @trustedreviews.