Amazon has been toying with the idea of opening physical retail stores for some time now, even opening old-fashioned bookstores in select locations and teasing cashier-less convenience stores. But the online retailer has some new ideas in the works, including implementing virtual and augmented reality into retail home stores.
The New York Times reports that Amazon is interested in opening a new set of stores comparable to Home Depot or Lowe's, so that customers can actually see and buy big ticket items in person. Purchases would not be picked up, but shipped.
The catch is that these stores would be outfitted with VR and AR technology, the driving goal being to allow customers to see what appliances and furniture would look like in their home, without having to leave the store. It's not known how this tech might work in the store just yet, whether you input room dimensions in the VR/AR rig, scan real-life photos, or something else, but it's exciting nonetheless.
The idea makes taking a trip to the local department store already feel outdated. Furniture shopping would be met with much more confidence if you knew exactly how that sofa would look before putting any money down first. The idea has the potential to change the way we shop.
Amazon wouldn't be the first retailer to implement this technology, however; Lowe's has recently developed VR and AR technologies for their own stores. Currently, their educational VR application is only available in one store location, but they have jumped ahead of Amazon in this uncharted area.
In addition to the educational opportunities, Lowe's has also created something strikingly similar to Amazon's idea, using a HoloLens. Customers could plan home improvement projects, such as a kitchen remodel, virtually, eliminating any guesswork involved in the project. There is no telling how Amazon plans to implement their technology, or how it might compare to what Lowe's has designed. However, at this time, it appears Lowe's is the only company of the two focused on instructional applications for mixed reality.
This news from Amazon comes as Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars into AR companies such as MagicLeap and InfinityAR. It isn't known if Amazon's interest in AR is fueled by competitive motivations, but seeing as Alibaba brings in more revenue than Amazon and eBay combined, Amazon may end up competing with Alibaba's mixed reality investments, whether or not by design.