Shopping in another dimension

Virtual reality as an online sales channel may not take off in 2017. Or in 2018. Or ever.

Wayfair Inc. knows this but the home furnishings e-retailer is investing in the bleeding-edge technology anyway. It’s a long-term investment, says Mike Festa, director of Wayfair Next, Wayfair’s research and development lab. This way, if or when the market takes off, Wayfair will already be a leader, he says.

“We’re anticipating that consumers will not adopt [virtual reality] technology for a few years, but at that point we will be well positioned to take advantage of the new platform,” Festa says.

Wayfair opened the Wayfair Next innovation lab in May and has already pumped out two virtual reality experiences for two virtual reality headsets, created a catalogue of 10,000 products modeled in 3-D, and written an application program interface (API) for its 3-D product catalog allowing app developers to use Wayfair’s virtual reality-ready products as content in whatever virtual reality experience they create.

Wayfair isn’t the only one betting on virtual reality. Other top retailers and brands including Moosejaw, Lowe’s Cos. Inc., Hormel Foods LLC and eBay Inc. have made virtual reality investments. Since the technology is new—and the majority of virtual reality experiences available are for gaming, not shopping—retailers are trying to figure out what works best in a virtual reality application for shopping. The barriers to getting consumers to try out retailers’ virtual reality experiences are high, as consumers need…

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