While many big and small companies are venturing into virtual reality hardware arena, a rather unexpected player has entered the scene: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. That’s right, the company known for being a portal for imperfect knockoffs of high-end luxury goods from China is getting in on the VR experience.
Alibaba’s First Moves
Alibaba threw its hat into the VR ring in March of 2016 and they’re serious about becoming the singular portal for VR/AR hardware retail. Case in point, they bought augmented reality company Magic Leap. A month later they announced the launch of their own VR research lab, called the Gnome Magic Lab.
With over 400 million users already in place on Alibaba platforms, the VR research Gnome Magic Lab will work closely with the company’s online shopping site ultimately integrating VR into the shopping experience to help shoppers and sellers explore new dimensions with both discount and hard-to-find tech options that most users can’t find elsewhere. Additionally, the e-commerce emporium is also exploring ways on how virtual reality can be included in video games and video streaming technology.
But they didn’t forget about YouTube either. Alibaba acquired Youku Tudou, the biggest Chinese video site, to tinker with 360-degree panoramic videos and they are quickly becoming a standout.
Why Target VR?
Considering the seemingly endless possibilities with VR, it’s pretty obvious that the market just isn’t producing as fast or as well as the consumer demand dictates. Sure, there are plenty of games and experiences, but the true evolution of the industry hasn’t even scratched the surface of the all the eventual industries that VR will ultimately redefine.
VR is in a huge growth spurt to chase all those industries and niches and Alibaba wants to build on their massive shopping experience like AliExpress by being a forerunner in VR/AR retail. But what are the real ramifications to the end user? Initially, having VR headsets and other hardware on Ali’s platforms will do a lot for exposure to users who can’t afford the high asking prices of the industry leading HMDs.
While there are cheaper options available through alibaba’s shopping experience, there are also a great deal of developers who are offering their tech on ali’s platforms, which will mean that new tech will have a home and visibility to the mainstream much sooner than they ever would if they had to compete for attention against the industry leaders.
Along with the Gnome Magic Lab, Alibaba recently released Buy+, a virtual store with high-quality virtual reality content developed in collaboration with Alibaba Entertainment, Alibaba Music and they recently acquired Youku Todou.
Buy+ allows consumers to select accessories and wearables online with the help of a 360-degree panoramic view and automated assistance, ultimately making online shopping all that more personal with VR.
Buy+ was originally rolled out in July and it required customers to wear HTC Vive headsets. Shoppers went on a shopping spree at 72 virtual shops on Alibaba’s Taobao e-tail platform with virtual assistants that interract and provide personal shopping advice. Customers take a virtual tour of the store, rotate products in 360 VR, and can even request different models to see how a particular product looks when worn. Once the customer is satisfied, they can purchase it instantly using a VR-based mobile payment method, which saves both time and effort.
What’s In It For The Fitness-Minded Consumer?
The old saying that more is always better definitely applies here. For people wanting to experience VR and fitness simultaneously, having an online giant like Alibaba get in on the retail aspect of the industry is huge. Having another outlet to shop from alone is a great benefit for exposure and having more options, but this also means that users will be privy to seeing more than just the top few HMDs that we all see everywhere else. If lesser known developers have a level playing field for reaching the consumer, then they will theoretically also help spur on growth and innovation across the board, too, which will mean a greater overall experience and a multitude of options for the consumer.
Beyond seeing more options, it also quickens the pace of overall market penetration, which will further hasten the pace of developers in all niches. More VR hardware in more homes means greater need for new experiences for users far beyond what’s already out there. Innovation will be pushed forward by necessity and fitness will definitely lead the way. Recent news and rumored changes clearly show that the overall VR experience is moving to a more fitness-friendly mindset with less cords and more wearable technology to track movement.
Will you be making your next VR hardware investment on an Ali site? Let us know in the comments below. Send us your reviews, photos and thoughts and maybe your next purchase will get you profiled on this site!
-Michael De Medeiros
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