Internet Retailer’s April Berthene’s first-person account of trying to make a purchase in virtual reality.

This article is an excerpt from a special edition of Internet Retailer magazine exploring the future of online retail technology. The complete issue will be available in mid-January 2017. Subscribe here.

Hormel Foods LLC launched virtual reality marketing vid­eos for its bacon products at the end of October, in a campaign dubbed The Black Market. With it, a consumer uses her smartphone and a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer to watch the bacon adventures, add the bacon to her cart and ultimately check out after removing her smartphone from the headset.

Since I didn’t need a fancy virtual reality headset—Google Cardboard viewers cost $20 —nor an app to try it out, I decided to see how slick the bacon virtual reality experience really was.

The process was simple. I went to the website, tapped go, and inserted my smartphone into Google Cardboard. Once I rotated my device and put it in the headset, I looked through the viewer and saw the home screen of the bacon experience which, after several seconds, automatically began.

I looked in front and behind me, and to the right and left to see the different adventures I could go on. Then my screen went dark. I forgot that I have my phone set to sleep after 30 seconds of inactivity and, since I was not tapping the screen, my phone shut off. I pulled my phone out of the view­er, tapped into my settings, changed the inactivity setting and then repeated the previ­ous steps.


I selected an “under the sea” bacon adventure by focusing the eye tracker over the words. It brought me to a black-and-white, comput­er-generated world. While I could look around, the only way to move forward through the landscape was to focus my eye target on a floating diamond. I had anticipated being able to move which­ever way I wanted throughout the landscape, but there was only one floating diamond and thus only one path to take.

At the end of the bacon adventure, which ran a little less than five minutes, I found a giant floating piece of bacon, which stood out because it was the only full col­or piece of content. However, adding the bacon to my cart was difficult. There were several navigation options floating around the bacon, such as home, exit, back and add to cart. After unsuccessfully spending about two minutes to get the eye tracker to float on the Add-to- Cart button, I gave up. No bacon for me.

The quality throughout the video was OK. Perhaps it was because images were computer generated and not real photography, or the fact that my smartphone’s home and back buttons were visible the entire time. Either way, I was underwhelmed by the entire experi­ence. While it sounded like it may be the easiest way to try virtual reality out, the actual experience really wasn’t easy, nor intuitive. Several times I thought, “Am I doing this right?”

A few days later I troubleshooted the experience with my Hormel contact. I gave it another try, and this time I sat (opposed to standing), held the viewer steady with both hands (versus one hand before), and after a minute of trying, I added the bacon to my cart. From there, I took my smartphone out of the viewer and the site took me to a traditional checkout page.

Hormel created the virtual reality videos to promote its brand, connect with consum­ers and ultimately increase sales, says Steven Venenga, Hormel’s vice president of marketing of grocery products. So far, the consumer packaged goods company is pleased with the cam­paign. Hormel says “thousands” of consumers have watched the videos, which can also be viewed in a browser without Google Cardboard, and purchased bacon as a result.


As Internet Retailer’s mobile reporter, I’ve tried several virtual reality experiences with different head­sets and have had a range of interesting and mediocre experiences. But I’ve yet to experience something in virtual reality that was so cool I’ve recommended it to a friend. Still, developers are just getting started and I’m curious to see what improvements retailers will cook up next.