Columnist Yanie Durocher is the creator of fashion and lifestyle blog THE MARGINALIST. She has worked in the luxury fashion realm in Milan, New York, Paris and Montreal, and Shanghai, where she now calls home.

I first heard of the Virtual Reality (VR) experience through the Democratic Front Row project last year in Denmark where Swedish fashion designer Ida Klamborn created a live 360 virtual reality (VR) fashion show that was broadcast directly from the user’s mobile via Google Cardboard. Who would have thought that a completely artificial environment created by software would make us temporarily suspend our disbeliefs and accept the virtual as real? Yes, that is the power of VR.

Today, this trend has expanded exponentially and is sweeping through not only luxury fashion but China’s Alibaba (which has a market share of more than 80 percent), tapped into VR a few months ago through their own Buy+ technology. Using sensors to generate a 3D interactive shopping environment, Alibaba wishes to make VR the shopping norm for its 400 million-plus customers. They are also already integrating themselves with live streaming companies, Youku Tudou Inc and Alibaba Pictures Group.

Last year, Dior launched its Dior Eyes VR campaign, which allowed those wearing massive Dior goggles backstage access to the runway show. A few months ago, I experienced Dior’s VR technology that transported me to Christian Dior’s private villa and magnificent rose garden by the sea. The experience was part of the brand’s new Rose essence beauty and cosmetic preview launch in Shanghai. This milestone event proved even the most traditional houses can be technologically advanced. After this success, brands such as Balenciaga and Balmain started streaming their FW16/17 show in VR, making runway debuts more accessible than ever before. A few months ago, Moschino also launched its first VR Fashion show in Los Angeles making it accessible to the wider public.

It’s a very exciting time to be a shopper. There are three major ways VR is reshaping the retail landscape for customers.

1

Travelling: Online to offline

VR is going to allow consumers to travel all over the world, explore and shop in ‘virtual’ luxury flagship stores like Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. This means endless value in terms of user experience because VR encourages impulse buying, has the potential of enhancing global customer service, convenience and product expectations.

2

Virtual Fitting: Clothing and home décor

Virtual fitting rooms and virtual home décor planning can increase purchasing efficiency by saving time, and reducing returns. Go virtual and wear the dress you want to see if it fits. Find a coffee table and see how it would actually look in your actual living room before buying it. This is helping bridge the gap between consumer expectation and actual purchase right from the comfort of their own home.

3

Events: Fashion shows and showrooms

Not only can brands create immediate sell-through with seasonal items, but they can also start extending front row viewership – usually restricted to the press, celebs, and VIPs. Users will have backstage access, access to interviews and the actual show, where they can buy the products and share their opinion. This, in turn, helps designers and brands gauge audience behaviour and collect consumer feedback. The days when magazine editors ruled the roost are over. Virtual reality is creating a democratic front row movement away from a media monopoly.

In essence, Virtual Reality is becoming an important and beneficial tool that will create a deeper interactive experience between retailers and customers. However, it’s important to remain vigilant and not be consumed by the world of virtual reality. “I think it can be really dangerous. I almost literally fell on my face,” says a managing director from a PR firm, who tried the VR 4D technology (4D involves seeing, hearing, touching and smelling).

VR should also have greater regulations for it to be safe for consumers, especially when the technology becomes more advanced. Games like Pokemon Go are already becoming a public nuisance, with people running into each other because they are more concerned with Pikachu than public decency. I suppose technology is always a double-edged sword, but I’m still excited to see how everything plays out.

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