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How VR is changing the future of e-commerce, and how our brains process a virtual environment

Wal-Mart storefront
Wal-Mart storefront
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

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Last week, Walmart filed two patent applications for a technology that would allow customers to shop in a digital version of the store. Shoppers would be able to browse and even interact with merchandise through a 3D simulation.

The simulations would respond to gestures and even generate sensory feedback such as feeling of moisture, heat, force and wind. But Walmart is not the only company to venture into this field. Last month, Amazon introduced virtual reality kiosks in malls in India. Earlier this year, the e-commerce and cloud computing company added an augmented reality function to its Android app in addition to Apple devices. Amazon had previously patented a special mirror that allows users to try on virtual clothes. There are various kinds of reality. There is the augmented reality (AR), where objects in the real world are "augmented" by computer-generated perceptual information. And there is the mixed reality (MR), defined as the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new visualizations, where physical and digital objects co-exist.

Companies are increasingly developing cutting-edge technology to keep pace with consumers' shifting preferences. We look at how virtual and augmented realities are changing the future of e-commerce and retail. We also discuss how our brains process and react to a virtual environment.


Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, where he builds systems that allow people to meet in virtual spaces; co-founder of STRIVR, a Menlo Park-based startup that uses virtual reality to improve performance of corporations, which has worked with Walmart to train employees in using VR; author of the book, "Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do" (W. W. Norton, Inc., 2018)

Don Vaughn, neuroscientist at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; his focus includes machine learning, artificial intelligence and neuro-hacking