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Virtual Reality

VR shopping: US department store Macy's hits pay dirt

For the Chinese Singles' Day holiday, Macy‘s offered a shopping experience at its New York department store – using virtual reality.

01 Dec. 2016 Yvonne Göpfert
VR Shopping Macy´s
The experience is virtual but the sales are real. (Alibaba)

US department store chain Macy's has long been seen as a digitization pioneer. They were the first stores to test iBeacons – and now the company is applying technology to plug into Singles' Day shopping in China. The American department store giant set up a shopping channel for Chinese customers via Alibaba, allowing them to browse through Macy‘s and shop to their heart's content using virtual reality. As reported by US business news site Quartz, Macy's also established a virtual shop on Taobao, a peer-to-peer site similar to eBay.

Virtual reality on Singles' Day: an attention-getter

Singles' Day (11 November) is China's biggest shopping holiday. USD 17.8 billion were spent on Singles' Day 2016 on Alibaba alone. By way of comparison, Black Friday and Cyber Monday together generated only USD 13.5 billion last year in the United States – in the entire US retail sector. In other words, China and its steadily growing middle class represent enormous potential that can be tapped into easily via Alibaba.

But making a quick buck was not the only reason for Macy's commitment to offer the Chinese an online shopping experience in the US – as Quartz reports . Singles' Day is intended to give Macy's an initial foothold and name recognition in the Chinese market.

Virtual reality shopping headset for 15 cents

Alibaba launched the sale of 150,000 VR headsets made of cardboard, similar to the Google Cardboards, for 1 yuan (around USD 0.15) on Taobao. From 1 to 11 November 2016, customers with the VR glasses and the Taobao app could virtually browse and shop at Macy's New York flagship store. On Singles' Day itself, Chinese customers in the VR app were offered the same big discounts that help drive lively sales on shopping days like Singles' Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Other international brands like Target, Costco and Tokyo Otaku Mode are experimenting with virtual reality shopping on Alibaba, with Singles' Day simply a test to see how the approach catches on. The American firms believe that buying through virtual reality offers an entirely new customer experience and supports stronger customer retention.

What makes virtual shopping even slicker: Alibaba has developed a payment app that lets you pay with a mere nod of the head.